President Obama and David Cameron Speak Out After Terrorism in Europe

The two leaders just finished a press conference in D.C. The biggest news: Obama says he will veto further Iran sanctions.

British Prime Minister David Cameron with President Obama walks the West Wing colonnade of the White House on January 15, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
National Journal
Priscilla Alvarez and Kaveh Waddell
Jan. 16, 2015, 7:46 a.m.

After a tu­mul­tu­ous two weeks of ter­ror and emo­tion­al re­sponses in Europe, Brit­ish Prime Min­is­ter Dav­id Camer­on is in Wash­ing­ton to meet with Pres­id­ent Obama, largely about se­cur­ity and cy­ber is­sues. On Fri­day, they used a joint news con­fer­ence to show off the strengths of their “spe­cial re­la­tion­ship” to the press.

Obama kicked off his open­ing state­ment ex­plain­ing just why he re­portedly calls Camer­on “bro.” Why so cas­u­al? “Put simply, Dav­id is a great friend,” Obama said Fri­day.

“Great Bri­tain is our in­dis­pens­able part­ner,” Obama said. “And Dav­id has been per­son­ally an out­stand­ing part­ner.” Camer­on, in his open­ing state­ment, called Obama a “great friend to Bri­tain and to me per­son­ally.”

In ad­di­tion to eco­nom­ic se­cur­ity, Camer­on fo­cused on ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tions such as IS­IS, and the do­mest­ic threats they in­spire, call­ing their basis a “pois­on­ous ideo­logy.”

“The world is sickened by this ter­ror­ism, so we will not be stand­ing alone in this fight,” Camer­on said. “We know what we’re up against, and we know how we will win.”

Camer­on also an­nounced that he and Obama “have agreed to es­tab­lish a joint group to identi­fy what more we can do to counter the rise of do­mest­ic vi­ol­ent ex­trem­ism and to learn from one an­oth­er.”

Camer­on, who is gear­ing up for elec­tions, made sure to em­phas­ize the work he and Obama have done to pull the U.S. and U.K. eco­nom­ies out of their slumps.

But the biggest mo­ment of the press­er was on Ir­an. Obama ad­dressed the on­go­ing ne­go­ti­ations with Ir­an over its nuc­le­ar pro­gram, and a bill that law­makers are ex­pec­ted to in­tro­duce next month that would in­crease sanc­tions on the Ir­a­ni­an re­gime. It’s a bill the pres­id­ent says he will veto.

“Through some very strong dip­lo­mat­ic work, we united the world and isol­ated Ir­an. And it’s be­cause of that work that we brought them to the ne­go­ti­at­ing table.” But Obama is still put­ting the odds of a com­pre­hens­ive agree­ment with Ir­an at “prob­ably less than 50-50.” Ir­an, he said, is run by a re­gime that “is deeply sus­pi­cious of the West, deeply sus­pi­cious of us.”

Obama said new sanc­tions le­gis­la­tion would likely cause the ne­go­ti­ations to col­lapse. “And if that hap­pens, there is no con­straint on Ir­an at that point go­ing back and do­ing ex­actly what it had been do­ing be­fore they came to the table.” 

He also said that if ne­go­ti­ations fail, the like­li­hood of mil­it­ary con­front­a­tion goes up, “and Con­gress will have to own that as well.”

For that reas­on, Obama said he plans to veto any new sanc­tions that come to his desk. Obama, in speak­ing with the Demo­crat­ic con­gres­sion­al caucus yes­ter­day, said, “I re­spect­fully re­quest them to hold off for a few months to see if we have the pos­sib­il­ity of solv­ing a big prob­lem without re­sort­ing po­ten­tially to war. And I think that’s worth do­ing.”

Obama later cla­ri­fied that if dip­lomacy doesn’t suc­ceed now, the U.S. won’t be on “im­me­di­ate war foot­ing” with Ir­an.

Sim­il­arly, Camer­on voiced his dis­agree­ment with new sanc­tions that could frac­ture ne­go­ti­ations with Ir­an, say­ing he spoke to U.S. sen­at­ors dur­ing his vis­it to “simply make a point.”

Dis­cuss­ing the re­cent spate of ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Europe, Obama said that the United States has “one big ad­vant­age in this whole pro­cess.” The ad­vant­age, he said, is the fact that the Muslim com­munit­ies in the U.S. are as­sim­il­ated and “feel them­selves to be Amer­ic­ans.”

That’s not the case in parts of Europe, Obama said, which is “prob­ably the greatest danger that Europe faces.” He sug­ges­ted that European gov­ern­ments work on strength­en­ing ties between their cul­tures and Muslim im­mig­rants, rather than re­spond­ing “with a ham­mer and law-en­force­ment and mil­it­ary ap­proaches to these prob­lems.”

While Camer­on agreed on that point, he also poin­ted out that some who have those ad­vant­ages in a mul­tiracial so­ci­ety still get se­duced by “this pois­on­ous, rad­ic­al death cult of a nar­rat­ive.”

To com­bat ter­ror­ist threats com­mu­nic­ated through so­cial me­dia and the In­ter­net, Obama and Camer­on an­nounced that they will be re­view­ing cy­ber­se­cur­ity and chal­lenges that may sur­face with new tech­no­lo­gies.

The press­er wasn’t all com­pletely ser­i­ous and policy-for­ward. In the first ques­tion from the press, Obama was asked about what he made of re­ports that Mitt Rom­ney is con­sid­er­ing run­ning for pres­id­ent again. “No com­ment” was as far as he went.

The meet­ing between the two lead­ers fol­lows a series of ter­ror­ist at­tacks in France that left 17 people dead. More than 40 world lead­ers marched along hun­dreds of thou­sands of people in Par­is last week­end in hon­or of the vic­tims. Camer­on was there, but Obama was not. The White House was cri­ti­cized for not send­ing the pres­id­ent—or at least the vice pres­id­ent—to the ral­lies, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion later ad­mit­ted it should have sent someone “with a high­er pro­file.” Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry vis­ited France Fri­day to ex­press his sym­pathy, say­ing, “I really wanted to come here and share a hug with all of Par­is and all friends.”

The news con­fer­ence also serves to present a united front against ter­ror­ism in the face of ad­di­tion­al threats this week in Europe. On Thursday, Bel­gian po­lice said they thwarted “a ma­jor ter­ror­ist at­tack,” en­ga­ging three would-be at­tack­ers in a shootout that left two gun­men dead. And on Fri­day, more than two dozen sus­pects were ar­res­ted in co­ordin­ated French, Ger­man, and Bel­gian po­lice raids.

Contributions by Matt Berman and Marina Koren
×