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Joint Press Conference by U.S. President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron

Speakers: Barack Obama, and David Cameron
Published June 5, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron held a press conference on June 5, 2014, after the G7 meeting in Brussels. They discussed relations with Ukraine and Russia and the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union.

Excerpt:

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON: Let's have a question from the BBC.

Q Mr. President, even if you don't have a meeting scheduled face-to-face with Vladimir Putin yourself, are you going to end up talking with him face-to-face in France? And do you see real possibilities of opening up a path away from the crisis by you engaging with him?

And Britain is potentially facing, Mr. President, two major decisions -- whether or not Scotland stays part of the United Kingdom, and whether the United Kingdom stays a part of the European Union. What do those decisions mean to you and to the people of the United States?

Prime Minister, you'll be the first leader I think after this summit to engage with Vladimir Putin face-to-face. Despite everything you've said, is there something of an olive branch in your hand? After all, Mr. Putin has not actually denounced the electoral process which brought the new President to power in Ukraine. Is there a way out, and is that what you're really going to be exploring with him this evening?

And do you accept that Germany may not come to your aid and stop Jean-Claude Juncker becoming Commission President? Will that actually potentially blow your entire strategy off course? You think you may be able to negotiate a brilliant reform of the European Union, but if Jean-Claude Juncker becomes President of the European Commission, will your credibility be so damaged in Britain that people may simply vote to leave the Union?

Finally, who are you more afraid of -- Angela Merkel or Theresa May? (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON: Great question. Do you want to go? Let me take those.

First of all, my meeting with Vladimir Putin -- I think it's just important to have this communication about some very important messages about what's happening now is not acceptable; about the changes that need to take place. I think as the President said, there is an opportunity for diplomacy to play a role and to chart a path, because we've had these elections, the Ukrainian people have chosen a President; he's a capable man and it's quite possible that he could have a proper relationship with Putin and there could be a proper relationship between Ukraine and Russia. But change is needed in order for that to happen, and that's the message that I will be delivering this evening.

In terms of your other questions, look, on this issue of who runs the European Commission, the European institutions, what matters is people who understand the need for change, who understand the need for reform, who realize that if things go on as they have this Union is not going to work for its citizens. And that was the message that I think was loudly received in these European elections.

As for who -- as you put it, Angela Merkel or Theresa May -- look, I'm very fortunate in my life to work with some extremely strong and capable women, of which they are undoubtedly two. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I have no doubt that I'll see Mr. Putin. And he and I have always had a businesslike relationship, and it is entirely appropriate that he is there to commemorate D-Day, given the extraordinary sacrifices that were made by the people of the Soviet Union during World War II.

And should we have the opportunity to talk, I will be repeating the same message that I've been delivering to him throughout this crisis. Keep in mind that although we haven't had formal meetings, I've spoken to him by phone repeatedly from the outset of the protests in the Maidan. And my message has been very consistent, and that is that Russia has a legitimate interest in what happens in Ukraine, given that it's on its border and given its historical ties, but ultimately it is up to the people of Ukraine to make their own decisions -- that Russian armed forces annexing pieces of a neighbor is illegal and violates international law, and the kinds of destabilizing activities that we now see, funded and encouraged by Russia, are illegal and are not constructive; and that there is a path in which Russia has the capacity to engage directly with President Poroshenko now -- he should take it. If he does not, if he continues a strategy of undermining the sovereignty of Ukraine, then we have no choice but to respond.

And perhaps he's been surprised by the degree of unity that's been displayed. I do think the fact that he did not immediately denounce the outcome of the May 25th election perhaps offers the prospect that he's moving in a new direction. But I think we have to see what he does and not what he says.

With respect to the future of the United Kingdom, obviously ultimately this is up to the people of Great Britain. In the case of Scotland, there's a referendum process in place and it's up to the people of Scotland.

I would say that the United Kingdom has been an extraordinary partner to us. From the outside, at least, it looks like things have worked pretty well. And we obviously have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies that we will ever have remains strong, robust, united, and an effective partner. But ultimately these are decisions that are to be made by the folks there.

With respect to the EU, we share a strategic vision with Great Britain on a whole range of international issues, and so it's always encouraging for us to know that Great Britain has a seat at the table in the larger European project. I think in light of the events that we're going to be commemorating tomorrow, it's important to recall that it was the steadfastness of Great Britain that, in part, allows us to be here in Brussels, in the seat of a unified and extraordinarily prosperous Europe. And it's hard for me to imagine that project going well in the absence of Great Britain. And I think it's also hard for me to imagine that it would be advantageous for Great Britain to be excluded from political decisions that have an enormous impact on its economic and political life.

So this is why we have elections, and we'll see the arguments made and I'm sure the people of Great Britain will make the right decision.

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