Wrap-Up: President Obama's Istanbul Town Hall
Last evening, this writer posted a preview of President Obama's Istanbul Town Hall with university students and online audience around the world. The Town Hall was held at the Tophane Cultural Center, Istanbul, Turkey.
The time difference between Turkey and the United States made it difficult for most Americans to watch the live-streaming event hosted by the White House.
President Barack Obama opened the Town Hall in Istanbul with these remarks:
"I enjoyed visiting your parliament. I've had productive discussions with your President and your Prime Minister. But I also always like to take some time to talk to people directly, especially young people. So in the next few minutes I want to focus on three areas in which I think we can make some progress: advancing dialogue between our two countries, but also advancing dialogue between the United States and the Muslim world; extending opportunity in education and in social welfare; and then also reaching out to young people as our best hope for peaceful, prosperous futures in both Turkey and in the United States."
President Obama discussed with the students about the essential values of listening, breaking down stereotypes on both sides, while accepting that neither side is perfect while standing up against prejudice, whether it is religious bigotry or virulent anti-Americanism.
He continued with some challenges addressed to the students, "Here there's great potential for the United States to work with Muslims around the world on behalf of a more prosperous future. And I want to pursue a new partnership on behalf of basic priorities: What can we do to help more children get a good education? What can we do to expand health care to regions that are on the margins of global society? What steps can we take in terms of trade and investment to create new jobs and industries and ultimately advance prosperity for all of us?"
President Obama concluded his opening statement by telling the students that he is counting on young people to help shape a more peaceful and prosperous future because they have come of age in a world that is complex and dramatic while having unprecedented access to information and invention.
He spoke about his pride in young Americans' spirit of activism and responsibility, "I've seen it in the young Americans who are choosing to teach in our schools or volunteer abroad. Everywhere I go I find young people who are passionate, engaged, and deeply informed about the world around them."
He stressed that, "Simple exchanges can break down walls between us, for when people come together and speak to one another and share a common experience, then their common humanity is revealed. We are reminded that we're joined together by our pursuit of a life that's productive and purposeful, and when that happens mistrust begins to fade and our smaller differences no longer overshadow the things that we share. And that's where progress begins.
So to all of you, I want you to know that the world will be what you make of it. You can choose to build new bridges instead of building new walls. You can choose to put aside long-standing divisions in pursuit of lasting peace. You can choose to advance a prosperity that is shared by all people and not just the wealthy few. And I want you to know that in these endeavors, you will find a partner and a supporter and a friend in the United States of America."
The students asked President Obama a plethora of questions ranging from climate change to the Kurds in Iraq, from Turkey's potential membership in the European Union to President Obama's thoughts on the Armenian tragedy, and several other issues.
The following are two examples of the Q&A exchanges between President Obama and the students.
Q: First, I will ask about the Bush and you differences at the core, because some say just the face has changed and that -- but core is the same still. They will have a fight with the Middle East and they will have a fight with Iran.
And my second question is more in part to this. You will let the Kurdish state in northern Iraq? You will let -- you'll allow this?
President Obama: I'll answer the Kurdish question first. You know, we are very clear about our position on Turkish territorial integrity. Turkey is an ally of ours and part of what NATO allies do is to protect the territorial integrity of their allies. And so we are -- we would be opposed to anything that would start cutting off parts of Turkey, and we have been very supportive in efforts to reduce terrorist activity by the PKK.
Now, I also think that it's important that the Kurdish minority inside of Turkey is free to advance in the society and that they have equal opportunity, that they have free political expression, that they are not suppressed in terms of opportunity. And I think that the President and Prime Minister are committed to that, but I want to continually encourage allowing -- whether it's religious minorities or ethnic minorities -- to be full parts of the society. And that, I think, is very, very important.
So let me just give you a few examples. When it comes to Iraq, I opposed the war in Iraq. I thought it was a bad idea. Now that we're there, I have a responsibility to make sure that as we bring troops out, that we do so in a careful enough way that we don't see a complete collapse into violence. So some people might say, wait, I thought you were opposed to the war, why don't you just get them all out right away? Well, just because I was opposed at the outset it doesn’t mean that I don't have now responsibilities to make sure that we do things in a responsible fashion.
When it comes to climate change, George Bush didn’t believe in climate change. I do believe in climate change, I think it's important. That doesn’t mean that suddenly the day I'm elected I can say, okay, we're going to turn off all the lights and everybody is going to stop driving. Right? All I can do is to start moving policies that over time are going to obtain different results.
And then it is true, though, that there are some areas where I agree with many of my friends in the United States who are on the opposite political party. For example, I agree that al Qaeda is an enormous threat not just to the United States but to the world. I have no sympathy and I have no patience for people who would go around blowing up innocent people for a political cause. I don't believe in that.
So, yes, I think that it is just and right for the United States and NATO allies and other allies from around the world to do what we can to eliminate the threat of al Qaeda. Now, I think it's important that we don't just do that militarily. I think it's important that we provide educational opportunities for young people in Pakistan and Afghanistan so that they see a different path. And so my policies will be somewhat different, but I don't make any apologies for continuing the effort to prevent bombs going off or planes going into buildings that would kill innocents.
And so, as I said, four years from now or eight years from now, you can look back and you can see maybe what he did wasn’t that different, and hopefully you'll come to the conclusion that what I did made progress."
Q: I'm from the university. I want to ask some questions about climate issue. Yesterday you said that peace in home and peace in world, but to my opinion, firstly the peace should be in nature. For this reason, I wonder that when the USA will sign the Kyoto Protocol?
President Obama: "Well, it's an excellent question. As many of you know, I think the science tells us that the planet is getting warmer because of carbon gases that are being sent into the atmosphere. And if we do not take steps soon to deal with it, then you could see an increase of three, four, five degrees, which would have a devastating effect -- the oceans would rise; we don't know what would happen to the beauty of Istanbul if suddenly the seas rise. Changing weather patterns would create extraordinary drought in some regions, floods in others. It could have a devastating effect on human civilization. So we've got to take steps to deal with this.
When the Kyoto Protocol was put forward, the United States opted out of it, as did China and some other countries -- and I think that was a mistake, particularly because the United States is the biggest carbon -- has been the biggest carbon producer. China is now becoming the biggest carbon producer because its population is so large. And so we need to bring an international agreement together very soon.
It doesn't make sense for the United States to sign Kyoto because Kyoto is about to end. So instead what my administration is doing is preparing for the next round, which is -- there will be discussions in Copenhagen at the end of this year. And what we want to do is to prepare an agenda both in the United States and work internationally so that we can start making progress on these issues.
Now, there are a number of elements. Number one, we have to be more energy efficient. And so all countries around the world should be sharing technology and information about how we can reduce the usage of electricity, and how we can make our transportation more efficient, make our cars get better gas mileage. Reducing the amount of energy we use is absolutely critical.
We should also think about are there ways that if we're using fossil fuels -- oil, coal, other fossil fuels -- are there ways of capturing or reducing the carbon emissions that come from them?
This is going to be a big, big project and a very difficult one and a very costly one. I think the politics of this in every country is going to be difficult, because if you suddenly say to people, you have to change your factory to make it more energy efficient -- well, that costs the factory owner money. If you say to a power plant, you have to produce energy in a different way, and that costs them money, then they want to pass that cost on to consumers, which means everybody's electricity prices go up -- and that is something that is not very popular.
So there are going to be big political struggles in every country to try to ratify an agreement on these issues. And that's why it's going to be so important that young people like yourself who needs to be active politically in making sure that politicians in every country are responsive to these issues and that we educate the public more than we have so far."
The full transcript of the Istanbul and online Town Hall can be read here.
Related Articles on President Obama's European Visits by this Writer:
- WH Press Pool's Challenges in Covering President Obama in Iraq
- President Obama Holds Town Hall in Istanbul: WH Live Stream
- US President Obama Arrived to Turkey - First Muslim Nation Visit
- Prague Welcomes President Obama to the EU Summit
- Mr. Obama's Updates & NATO Wrap-Up before Prague and Turkey
- US President Obama Discussed G20 London Summit
- High Security for Mr. Obama's Packed Diplomacy: G20, NATO, & EU
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