Obama, Sarkozy in Strasbourg, France

PRESIDENT OBAMA: President Sarkozy has been honest, has been consistent. I made the decision to close Guantanamo because I do not think it makes America safer. In doing so, I’ve been very clear that we’re going to do it carefully, we’re going to do it thoughtfully. And in order to do it carefully and thoughtfully we are going to consult with our allies and, in certain cases, we’re going to need help with detainees that may still pose a risk but we may not be able to repatriate to their countries of origin.

And so we have had this discussion. We don’t have detailed announcements to make. I just want to express my appreciation to President Sarkozy for being good to his word, as he always is.

Q A question to both Presidents. Would you agree to have the Russians join European defense system? And are you expecting the Russians really to exert tough pressures upon Iran to stop their military nuclear program?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Why don’t I go first on this.

I had a terrific meeting, a bilateral meeting during the summit with President Medvedev. I think there is a great potential to improve U.S.-Russian relations. I think that it is important for NATO allies to engage Russia and to recognize that they have legitimate interests. In some cases we’ve got common interests. But we also have some core disagreements.

I think that we should be in a dialogue with them about how we can maintain stability while respecting the autonomy and independence of all countries in Europe — West, East, Central, wherever they are.

I was a critic of the Russian invasion of Georgia. I continue to believe that despite the extraordinary efforts of President Sarkozy to broker a ceasefire that we have not seen a stabilization of that situation. And I think that we have to send a very clear message to Russia that we want to work with them, but that we can’t go back to the old ways of doing business.

I do believe that the United States and Russia, the Europeans and the United States, all have an interest in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and that there should be a mechanism that respects Iran’s sovereignty and allows them to develop peaceful nuclear energy, but draws a clear line that we cannot have a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

I brought this up in my conversations with President Medvedev, and it will be an ongoing topic of our bilateral negotiations. We’re very excited about working with France and other countries to arrive at a position with respect to Iran that invites them into responsible membership in the international community, but also makes clear that they’ve got to act in ways that responsible members — what’s expected of them, that they meet those standards.

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