The changes of the human spirit make this world a better place

U.S. President Barack Obama gave an interview to the Russian ITAR-TASS news agency, “Rossia 24” TV channel and The Rossiyskaya Gazeta. According to the White House press-service officials, it’s Obama’ s only interview on the eve of his 50th birthday marked on August 4.

During an interview in the Library of the White House. Photo by Lawrence Jackson

G u s m a n: – Mr. President, we met for an interview exactly two years ago when you were just learning the ropes here at the White House. Can you tell me if the burden of the presidency is easier or harder now?

O b a m a: – Well, obviously I’ve got a lot more gray hair since I first walked in.  And there’s no doubt that we’ve gone through an extraordinary period in world history. We had the worst recession since the 1930s here in the United States. Obviously a lot of my focus has been how do we put people back to work, stabilize the financial system, working with the G8 and the G20. Russia has been a good partner in that process, and we’ve successfully stabilized it. But the economy worldwide is still weak. And so that has added to the burdens of the office. 

And then internationally we’ve seen enormous changes. We continue to try to end the war in Iraq, which we should have all of our troops out by the end of this year; Afghanistan, we’ve begun a transition towards Afghan responsibility. The Arab Spring is an enormous opportunity, but also a challenge, as the situation there is in flux.

And so there are a lot of changes taking place throughout the world at the same time, and that adds to the burdens of the presidency, but it also is an extraordinary opportunity to try to bring about change.

G u s m a n:Your dispute with the Congress over the national debt has shocked the world.  Why did it happen? 

O b a m a: – Well, what’s happened is that right now we have divided government.  I came in in 2008 and I had a Democratic Congress, and although that was challenging, obviously we were all moving in the same direction.

In 2010, Republicans won control of the House of Representatives. In our system of government, Congress is a co-equal branch with the presidency. And when you have a party that has different views in the House of Representatives, that means that there are going to be conflicts and arguments and disputes.

Now, frankly, I think that we will work through these disputes, as we always have in the past. This is part of democracy. It’s not always neat; sometimes it’s messy. On the other hand, we continue to believe that it’s the best system of government available, even if sometimes it’s inconvenient.

G u s m a n:You and President Dmitry Medvedev have set the course of reset. The “reset” button has worked. What do you want to be written on the next button?

O b a m a: – Well, first of all, I think it’s important for us to look back over the last two years and see the enormous progress we’ve made. I started talking about reset when I was still a candidate for President, and immediately reached out to President Medvedev as soon as I was elected. And we have been I think extraordinarily successful partners in moving towards reset.

So, for example, the START treaty we could not have done had we not forged a good relationship. We have a bilateral presidential commission that deals with a wide range of issues. We are on track to get WTO finally completed after 18 years. The 123 Agreement, which allows for nuclear cooperation. We’re actually having an important conversation around missile defense issues.

So if you look at all the progress that we’ve made, I think President Medvedev is a strong patriot. He fiercely defends Russian interests. But he also recognizes that the way for Russia to prosper is to engage with the world multilaterally and bilaterally. And he’s widely respected as a consequence.

And Prime Minister Putin has been fully supportive of this reset process, and as a consequence I think our relationship has greatly improved over the last two years.

Now, moving forward, I think the key is economics. President Medvedev has talked about modernization in Russia. There is such enormous potential for Russia, not just given all its natural resources and the extractive industries like oil, but also incredible scientists and mathematicians and engineers. President Medvedev I think is exactly right that if we’re partnering together in a bilateral way, we can improve trade. You can have a Russian version of the Silicon Valley that’s creating value in new industries and new technologies. We want to cooperate on that. 

At the same time, I think people-to-people relations. We’ve been working hard, for example, to revise our adoption and visa rules successfully so that we can increase people-to-people contact. All those things are I think going to continue to improve the reset process over the next several years.

G u s m a n:There are a lot of rumors whether you will visit Moscow this year or not. I would ask a direct question: Will we see you in Russia this year?

O b a m a: – You know, I have to say that, obviously, we’re very busy right now in the United States. So I have actually put on hold most foreign travel other than the travel that I have to attend – the G20 summit, the APEC summit in November. On the other hand, I have wonderful memories of my visit with my family to Russia just a few years ago. And I would very much look forward to going back. And hopefully we can arrange something in my schedule. I don’t know if it will be this year, but we’ll continue to explore it.

G u s m a n: On August 4, 2011, you will turn 50. What developments in the world, in the United States, in your personal life were the most important for you?

O b a m a: – Well, I think that the most important would be the day I married my wife and the day my two daughters were born. Those are the dates that will always be most important to me. 

But at the same, if you think about the extraordinary changes that have taken place during my lifetime – everything from changes in the civil rights movement that ultimately allowed me to become President of the United States and the growing equality – racial equality here in the United States; the end of the Cold War, which when I was born obviously no one would have imagined that we would now be partners on the international stage, Russia and the United States; Nelson Mandela being released, which signified I think the yearning of freedom all around the world; and now what’s happening in the Middle East.

I think the most profound changes have had to do with the human spirit and people longing for their ability to have opportunity. And that’s something that has made this world a better place. 

And on the economic side, the Internet has transformed the world in ways that none of us could have imagined. And so communications shrunk the globe, made us all interconnected. And that’s why it’s that much more important that we foster understanding and communication between our peoples as two of the most powerful countries on Earth.

G u s m a n:Mr. President, there will be a lot of good wishes for your 50th birthday. What would you wish yourself for the second part of your life and for your second term of the presidency?

O b a m a: – Well, what I’m hoping for more than anything is that we are able to drive towards a more peaceful world. And as President I have a great responsibility to try to mediate conflicts around the world, to try to deal with the terrorist threat in a way that allows all countries and all peoples to live in peace.  And I also wish for the world economy to strengthen, because when the world economy is growing, millions of people are lifted out of poverty and have opportunity. And they pass on the education and the skills to their children and their grandchildren. And I think that the more prosperous people are the less likely they are to engage in war and conflict. 

So those are big wishes. They’re not ones that can be completed probably in my lifetime or anyone’s lifetime, but we can always strive in that direction.

A birthday gift from the ITAR-TASS News Agency team. Photo by Lawrence Jackson


G u s m a n:Thank you, Mr. President, and congratulations.


Souvenir poststamp “Barack Obama 50”

Envelope “Barack Obama 50”

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