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President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron's Joint Press Conference, May 2013

Speakers: Barack Obama, and David Cameron
Published May 13, 2013

President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron's held this joint press conference on May 13, 2013. They discussed the agenda for the June 2013 G8 Summit, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and U.S.-U.K. collaborations in global security.

Excerpt from the press conference:

"Q James Landale, BBC. Prime Minister, you're talking here today about a new EU-U.S. trade deal, and yet members of your party are now talking about leaving the European Union. What is your message to them and to those pushing for an early referendum? And if there were a referendum tomorrow, how would you vote?

And, Mr. President, earlier this year you told David Cameron that you wanted a strong U.K. in a strong EU. How concerned are you that members of David Cameron's Cabinet are now openly contemplating withdrawal?

And on Syria, if I may, a question to both of you: What gives you any confidence that the Russians are going to help you on this?

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON: Well, first of all, on the issue of a referendum, look, there's not going to be a referendum tomorrow. And there's a very good reason why there's not going to be a referendum tomorrow -- is because it would give the British public I think an entirely false choice between the status quo -- which I don't think is acceptable. I want to see the European Union change. I want to see Britain's relationship with the European [Union] change and improve. So it would be a false choice between the status quo and leaving. And I don't think that is the choice the British public want or the British public deserve.

Everything I do in this area is guided by a very simple principle, which is what is in the national interest of Britain. Is it in the national interest of Britain to have a transatlantic trade deal that will make our countries more prosperous; that will get people to work; that will help our businesses? Yes, it is. And so we will push for this transatlantic trade deal.

Is it in our interests to reform the European Union to make it more open, more competitive, more flexible, and to improve Britain's place within the European Union? Yes, it is in our national interest. And it's not only in our national interest, it is achievable, because Europe has to change because the single currency is driving change for that part of the European Union that is in the single currency. And just as they want changes, so I believe Britain is quite entitled to ask for and to get changes in response.

And then finally, is it in Britain's national interest, once we have achieved those changes but before the end of 2017, to consult the British public in a proper, full-on, in/out referendum? Yes, I believe it is. So that's the approach that we take -- everything driven by what is in the British national interest.

That is what I'm going to deliver. It's absolutely right for our country. It has very strong support throughout the country and in the Conservative Party, and that's exactly what I'm going to do.

On the Syrian issue, you asked the question -- what are the signs of Russian engagement. Well, I had very good talks with President Putin in Sochi on Friday. And, look, we had a very frank conversation in that we have approached this -- and in some extent, still do approach this -- in a different way. I have been very vocal in supporting the Syrian opposition and saying that Assad has to go, that he is not legitimate, and I continue to say that. And President Putin has taken a different point of view.

But where there is a common interest is that it is in both our interests that at the end of this there is a stable, democratic Syria, that there is a stable neighborhood, and that we don't encourage the growth of violent extremism. And I think both the Russian President, the American President, and myself -- I think we can all see that the current trajectory of how things are going is not actually in anybody's interest and so it is worth this major diplomatic effort, which we are all together leading this major diplomatic effort to bring the parties to the table to achieve a transition at the top in Syria so that we can make the change that country needs.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: With respect to the relationship between the U.K. and the EU, we have a special relationship with the United Kingdom. And we believe that our capacity to partner with a United Kingdom that is active, robust, outward-looking and engaged with the world is hugely important to our own interests as well as the world. And I think the U.K.'s participation in the EU is an expression of its influence and its role in the world, as well as obviously a very important economic partnership.

Now, ultimately, the people of the U.K. have to make decisions for themselves. I will say this -- that David's basic point that you probably want to see if you can fix what's broken in a very important relationship before you break it off makes some sense to me. And I know that David has been very active in seeking some reforms internal to the EU. Those are tough negotiations. You've got a lot of countries involved, I recognize that. But so long as we haven't yet evaluated how successful those reforms will be, I at least would be interested in seeing whether or not those are successful before rendering a final judgment. Again, I want to emphasize these are issues for the people of the United Kingdom to make a decision about, not ours.

With respect to Syria, I think David said it very well. If you look objectively, the entire world community has an interest in seeing a Syria that is not engaged in sectarian war, in which the Syrian people are not being slaughtered, that is an island of peace as opposed to potentially an outpost for extremists. That's not just true for the United States. That's not just true for Great Britain. That's not just true for countries like Jordan and Turkey that border Syria, but that's also true for Russia.

And I'm pleased to hear that David had a very constructive conversation with President Putin shortly after the conversation that had taken place between John Kerry and President Putin. I've spoken to President Putin several times on this topic. And our basic argument is that as a leader on the world stage, Russia has an interest, as well as an obligation, to try to resolve this issue in a way that can lead to the kind of outcome that we'd all like to see over the long term.

And, look, I don't think it's any secret that there remains lingering suspicions between Russia and other members of the G8 or the West. It's been several decades now since Russia transformed itself and the Eastern Bloc transformed itself. But some of those suspicions still exist.

And part of what my goal has been, John Kerry's goal has been -- and I know that David's goal has been -- to try to break down some of those suspicions and look objectively at the situation.

If, in fact, we can broker a peaceful political transition that leads to Assad's departure but a state in Syria that is still intact; that accommodates the interests of all the ethnic groups, all the religious groups inside of Syria; and that ends the bloodshed, stabilizes the situation -- that's not just going to be good for us; that will be good for everybody. And we're going to be very persistent in trying to make that happen.

I'm not promising that it's going to be successful. Frankly, sometimes once sort of the Furies have been unleashed in a situation like we're seeing in Syria, it's very hard to put things back together. And there are going to be enormous challenges in getting a credible process going even if Russia is involved, because we still have other countries like Iran and we have non-state actors like Hezbollah that have been actively involved. And frankly, on the other side we've got organizations like al Nusra that are essentially affiliated to al Qaeda that have another agenda beyond just getting rid of Assad."

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