Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One En Route Oso, Washington, 4/22/2014
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Oso, Washington
11:21 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good morning. Welcome aboard Air Force One. As you know, we’re headed to the great state of Washington, where the President will be viewing the devastation from the recent mudslide and meeting with the families affected by the disaster there, as well as with first responders and recovery workers. What they’ve been through has been devastating, and the President looks forward to spending some time with families, with first responders, and also, obviously, looking at what happened in the aftermath of the mudslide.
After that, we head to Tokyo, Japan to begin our four-nation, multi-day Asian tour.
That’s all I have at the top. Any questions? Or should we just get back to movies and food? (Laughter.)
Q Jay, the South Korean military has reported increased activity around the site of a North Korean nuclear area. Is North Korea preparing for a nuclear test of some sort?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Mark, as I said yesterday, we closely monitor actions such as that. North Korea has a history of taking provocative actions, and we are always mindful of the possibility that such an action could be taken. Depending on what it is and what they do, if they do anything, it would most likely be in violation of numerous commitments that the DPRK is bound by. But of course, that is something that they have, unfortunately, done many times.
Q Do you have any evidence to support the concerns of the South Koreans?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not in a position to discuss the information we have and how we evaluate what’s happening in North Korea. We’ve certainly seen the public reports and the press reports. And again, I would note that there is a kind of cyclical nature to the provocative actions that North Korea tends to take, and we’ll be watching it very closely.
Q Can I ask also, in reference to Japan, the Prime Minister sent a ritual offering to the Yasukuni Shrine, which is controversial and has raised concerns among Japan’s Asian neighbors and U.S. allies such as South Korea. Does that action cause any difficulties ahead of the President’s trip to the region where, after all, one of his goals is to sort of repair relations?
MR. CARNEY: We have an enormously important alliance with Japan, and the President is looking forward to his visit there. I believe there’s been several briefings, including at the State Department, in advance of the trip so I don’t have anything specific in reaction to that, but I would refer you to the State Department and to others. And we’ll be talking to you guys, obviously, once we get to Japan.
Q Jay, on North Korea, but a slightly different front, obviously. The U.N. published a report relatively recently about the human rights violations they’ve committed, and there was a discussion about how much, for example, Japan, South Korea and the U.S. would take in terms of pressing for establishing some sort of structure on the idea that eventually people could be held accountable for that. Could you give us any sense of where that stands or whether that’s one of the topics that will be on the President’s agenda as he meets with both the Prime Minister of Japan and the President in South Korea?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there’s no question that North Korea is a nation that violates human rights -- the human rights of its own citizens. It’s one of the most oppressive nations in the region and on the planet. It’s also one of the most closed societies and opaque societies. It’s the kind of subject that is frequently discussed in meetings between government officials of the United States and South Korea, and I would expect that would be one of the topics of discussion when we’re in Seoul.
Q Jay, is it the expectation that if sanctions are ramped up that the Japanese would be on board and remain unified? Or is there work that the administration is going to have to do on this trip to try and ensure that?
MR. CARNEY: You refer to sanctions on Russia with --
Q Sectoral sanctions.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me first make clear that under the three executive orders, the administration, the President have a great deal of flexibility and capacity to impose additional sanctions in a way that responds to escalation by Russia with escalated costs for Russia. And that would be up to and including, potentially, sectoral sanctions -- what are described as sectoral sanctions. But there are other kinds of sanctions that can be imposed to individuals and entities. And the importance of the executive orders is that they, taken together, allow for that flexibility.
We’ve said that Russia needs to comply with the commitments it made in the agreement signed in Geneva -- an agreement signed by Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the EU -- and we are calling on all parties to comply with the commitments they’ve made. And we would note that the Ukrainian government is doing its part to deescalate the situation there by making clear that it intends to offer amnesty to those who have taken up weapons and occupied buildings if they lay down their arms and vacate the buildings, and to pursue constitutional reform, and to take very seriously the concerns of those in some of the regions outside of Kyiv and eastern and southern Ukraine in terms of their relative -- their relationship with the center.
So the Ukrainian government has acted responsibly and seriously, and we commend them for that. And we call on Russia to use the influence that Russia has on the armed militants who have seized buildings and blockaded roads and stockpiled weapons to pressure them to give up their weapons and to vacate the buildings. And we will watch very closely in the coming days to see if those commitments are honored, and then will take action as necessary, if necessary, when it comes to imposing further costs.
Q How much longer is the U.S. prepared to wait before it decides whether or not to go ahead and impose additional sanctions?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a specific deadline to provide to you. As I said yesterday and again today, we’re going to evaluate this in coming days. As you know, the Vice President visited Ukraine, was in Kyiv, and announced additional assistance that we’re providing to Ukraine, made clear our support for the people of Ukraine and the Ukrainian government in this challenging time. And meanwhile, we, with our European and G7 partners, are closely monitoring the situation on the ground.
Q Has the U.S. made any sort of timeline to Russia in expectation of when you would want to see progress of deescalating tensions? Does Russia know when you expect to see things change?
MR. CARNEY: I think Russia understands that the United States, the EU and our G7 partners are serious about the need for all parties to the agreement to take steps to deescalate the situation in Ukraine and that, should Russia continue to engage in provocative actions, continue to support the separatists -- the so-called separatists, or the armed irregular militias in portions of Ukraine who have seized buildings, that there will be further costs imposed on Russia.
And we’ve discussed many times what Russia needs to do, which is use their influence to help deescalate the situation. That includes their influence directly on those who have seized buildings, also to remove their troops from their position on the border in a manner that is consistent with their disposition prior to this crisis, and to take other steps to engage with Ukraine together with international partners in a dialogue building on Geneva so that we can move forward, and that the -- so the Ukrainian people can move forward with stabilizing their economy, participating in presidential elections on May 25th, and getting about the business that the Ukrainian government has committed itself to of instituting reforms and dealing with corruption and all the other challenges that Ukraine faces.
Q Can we go back to North Korea for a second? If there is any sort of a nuclear test, is there any talk of changing the President’s itinerary at all?
MR. CARNEY: We’re monitoring events closely and mindful of Pyongyang’s propensity to take provocative actions, but I’m not going to speculate about that.
Q On the mudslide, obviously the President is expressing his sympathy and appreciation for the first responders and for the families there. Is there any policy that he’s going to discuss, or specific, concrete actions the federal government is going to take in response to the accident?
MR. CARNEY: The administration remains focused on supporting the state and local efforts, and first responders. Earlier this month, as you know, the President declared a major disaster in the state of Washington and ordered federal aid to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts. This assistance is in addition to the support provided under the presidential emergency declaration granted on March 24th, 2014. And we -- the President has, rather, directed his team to stay in close touch with our federal partners as well as state and local officials leading the response.
So I think the purpose of the visit, which will include remarks delivered at the Oso firehouse, is to view firsthand the aftermath of the terrible mudslide there, and to meet directly with those who lost loved ones and have suffered so much in this terrible tragedy.
Q Has the President and Vice President spoken since the Vice President went to Kyiv?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know that they have spoken directly; they may have. I think the Vice President was in Kyiv until very recently; I’m not sure of the timing of his departure. But the President is obviously well-briefed on and focused on developments there and on the assistance that the Vice President announced in Kyiv, and the support that we’re giving to the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government.
Q Jay, there’s an economic forum I think in St. Petersburg in a couple of weeks. There’s a number of major U.S. CEOs slated to attend -- Boeing, Citi, Goldman. Is that a concern at all for the administration? And what’s kind of the outreach to private business when it comes to Russia?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of that conference so I’ll have to direct you to the Treasury Department. But I think that the administration has engaged with companies that have sought information about the steps that we’ve taken. Treasury might have more for you on that.
Obviously, how severe the sanctions will be will depend on how much Russia wants to continue to engage in activity that supports the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. So it’s hard to speculate or to know all the costs that will be imposed on Russia because, obviously, Russia does have the opportunity to avoid further costs if it participates in a positive way in deescalating the situation there.
Q How does the White House view today’s Supreme Court decision upholding the ban on -- Michigan’s ban on affirmative action at universities?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re still reviewing the ruling, which just came down. So I don’t have a specific reaction. Generally speaking, as you know, the President believes that diversity in the classroom is important for students, campuses and schools. In an increasingly multicultural society and global economy, it is more important than ever that America’s students be exposed to a wide array of ideas and perspectives to prepare them for success.
As you know, the President has said that while he opposes quotas and thinks an emphasis on universal and not race-specific programs is good policy, considering race, along with other factors, can be appropriate in certain circumstances. But we don’t have a specific reaction to the ruling.
11:37 A.M. EDT
President Obama Signs Indiana Disaster Declaration
Today, the President declared a major disaster in the State of Indiana and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by a severe winter storm and snowstorm during the period of January 5-9, 2014.
Federal funding is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe winter storm and snowstorm in the counties of Boone, Clay, Hendricks, Huntington, Jasper, Kosciusko, Madison, Morgan, Newton, Noble, Owen, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan, Tipton, Vigo, Wabash, White, and Whitley.
In addition, federal funding is available to the state and eligible local governments on a cost-sharing basis for snow assistance for a continuous 48-hour period during or proximate to the incident period in Boone, Clay, Hendricks, Huntington, Jasper, Kosciusko, Madison, Morgan, Newton, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan, Tipton, Vigo, Wabash, and White Counties and a 72-hour period in Noble and Whitley Counties.
Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.
W. Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named David G. Samaniego as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area.
FEMA said additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION MEDIA SHOULD CONTACT: FEMA NEWS DESK AT (202) 646-3272 OR FEMA-NEWS-DESK@DHS.GOV
Remarks to the Press by Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk
Cabinet of Ministers Club
1:40 P.M. (Local)
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Mr. Prime Minister, let me begin by thanking you both for your hospitality, but much more importantly for the incredible leadership you’ve shown under very, very, very difficult circumstances.
We just celebrated Easter, and Easter is supposed to be a season of peace, of family, and a time when we all come together. But today there are some who are trying to pull Ukraine apart. Ukraine is in the struggle for its very future.
When I left the hotel this morning, the hotel management asked me to sign their book that they have before I left. And as I told you, Mr. Prime Minister, I signed, “Ukraine united, Joe Biden.” I wish it were that easy, just signing my signature. But the truth of the matter is we, the United States, stand with you and all the Ukrainian people on a Ukraine united. And I’ll say at the top we do not recognize -- we do not recognize -- Russia’s actions in the Crimea.
But today, as I said, there are some trying to pull Ukraine apart. And you have -- we’re in the struggle for your very future. There’s been a lot of talk about geopolitics, about East and West. But here in Ukraine, people know that it’s about something much more fundamental. It’s not about geopolitics; it’s about unity. It’s about independence. And at its most basic level, it’s about restoring respect and dignity.
For months Ukrainians braved bone-chilling, cold weather and stood down snipers’ bullets in the Maidan. And I know not every Ukrainian feels the same way about the Maidan. I understand that. But it’s my view that all Ukrainians can agree on the core idea that government exists to serve the people. The people do not exist to serve the government. And that the people of the Ukraine -- of Ukraine should have the right to choose their own future.
I offer my personal sympathies to the families of those who laid down their lives for this cause. These heroes remind us of the true cost of a better future and the nobility of those who reach for it. I came here to Kyiv to let you know, Mr. Prime Minister, and every Ukrainian know that the United States stands with you and is working to support all Ukrainians in seeking a better future.
The road ahead obviously, as we discussed at length both here and in Washington, Mr. Prime Minister, is difficult. And you should know, as I told you at the outset, you will not walk this road alone. We will walk it with you.
Today, the Prime Minister and I talked about the work before us. We discussed the most acute problem, the most acute matter facing the Ukrainian people, the ongoing threat to their country’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity. I’ll say it again, Ukraine is and must remain one country from Lviv to Kharkiv down to the Black Sea -- one country, one united Ukraine.
The United States supports a strong, united Ukraine with productive and peaceful relationships with both the East and the West, with both Russia and Europe. And that's a goal that I know you share, Mr. Prime Minister. But no nation -- no nation -- has the right to simply grab land from another nation. No nation has that right. And we will never recognize Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, and neither will the world, as was demonstrated by the overwhelming vote that took place in the Security Council in the General Assembly.
No nation should threaten its neighbors by massing troops along the border. We call on Russia to pull back these forces. No nation should stoke instability in its neighbor’s country. We call on Russia to stop supporting men hiding behind masks in unmarked uniforms, sowing unrest in Eastern Ukraine. And we have been clear that more provocative behavior by Russia will lead to more costs and to greater isolation. The United States has demonstrated, as Ukraine has, that it supports diplomatic efforts to deescalate the situation.
Mr. Prime Minister, your government has taken important steps to uphold the agreement reached in Geneva just last week, including putting forward a broad amnesty bill for separatists, which you’ve done, who give up -- amnesty for those who give up buildings and their weapons. You’ve also sent senior representatives to the east to help the OSCE move the process forward. You’ve met with the head of that delegation, as I did yesterday.
We’ve heard a lot from Russian officials in the past few days, but now it’s time for Russia to stop talking and start acting. Act on the commitments that they made: to get pro-Russian separatists to vacate buildings and checkpoints, accept amnesty and address their grievances politically; to get out on the record calling for the release of all illegally occupied buildings. That's not a hard thing to do, and to send senior Russian officials to work with the OSCE in the east. These are commitments made; they should be fulfilled. We need to see these kinds of concrete steps. We need to see them without delay. We will not allow this to become an open-ended process. Time is short in which to make progress.
In this time of testing, the instability in the east is only one of several challenges Ukraine and the government must confront. It also has challenges in politics, economics and in energy.
Today the Prime Minister briefed me on preparations for the presidential election on March [sic] the 25th, and his aspirations for constitutional reform and a presentation on May the 15th. The United States for this election is providing substantial assistance to make sure that they are clean and closely monitored so that nobody on the 26th of May can question their legitimacy. I’m encouraged and I’m genuinely encouraged to see so many people in the east rejecting violence, choosing the ballot box over bullets to determine Ukraine’s future. And I’m all -- and I was pleased to hear about Ukraine’s significant progress on constitutional reform and decentralization.
This may be the most important election in the history of Ukraine. This is a chance to make good on the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians east and west and every part of this country. For a Ukraine that empowers local governance and respects and protects different linguistic and cultural traditions, but fundamentally holds together as a single state -- united and sovereign. There’s such possibilities ahead, Mr. Prime Minister.
Ukrainians have also made clear that after an era of staggering public theft -- not debt, public theft -- that they will no longer accept corruption from public officials. Your former leader had to run in hiding for fear that after everyone saw the excesses to which his theft had taken him and others. The fact of the matter is I’m of the view -- and it’s presumptuous to ever tell another man what his country thinks -- but I’m of the view that Ukrainians east, west, north and south are just sick and tired of the corruption.
Mr. Prime Minister, Ukraine’s new law on government procedure -- procurement I should say represents a first important step in dealing with this kleptocracy. The United States is ready to help Ukraine take further steps to build transparent institutions, to win back the trust of the people. And just as corruption can have no place in the new Ukraine, neither can anti-Semitism or bigotry. Let me say that again, neither can anti-Semitism or bigotry. No place. None. Zero. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms all threats and attacks against Ukrainian Jewish communities as well as Roma and others, as you do, as well, I know, Mr. Prime Minister.
Mr. Prime Minister, you and I also discussed the efforts to stabilize and strengthen Ukraine’s economy. Just last week the United States government signed a bill proposed by our administration for a $1 billion loan guarantee agreement with Ukraine. The United States has also been a driving force behind the IMF, working to provide a multi-billion package to help Ukraine address the immediate needs and get Ukraine on a stronger path. I expect the IMF package to be finalized imminently, and I congratulate you and your government here in Ukraine for having made the difficult -- and they are difficult, very difficult -- economic reforms to get this done.
The Prime Minister and I also spoke about energy. An American team is currently in the region working with Ukraine and its neighbors to increase Ukraine’s short-term energy supply. And I’ve been on the telephone with many of your neighbors, as you know, talking about the way to increase that supply. And more teams are coming to support long-term improvements so that no nation -- let me be precise, so that Russia can no longer use energy as a political weapon against Ukraine and Europe.
With the right investments and the right choices, Ukraine can reduce its energy dependence and increase its energy security. We will stand with you to help in every way we can for you to accomplish that goal.
Finally, even as we pursue diplomacy we’re also providing nonlethal support to Ukraine security services to deal with the challenges that have arisen. We’re providing communications gear, bomb disposal technology, transportation and engineering equipment for Ukraine to protect against infiltrators and deal with explosive threats. And our security support now totals nearly $20 million.
Mr. Prime Minister, I know we’ll be talking again, and I’m confident that you will continue to be as consistent and persistent as you have been in order to bring about the kind of change that's needed. We will stand with you. It’s been inspiring to watch you and your fellow countrymen. For all the obstacles placed in your way, you continue to move forward with resolve -- genuine resolve.
And I’m proud to affirm that you do so with friendship, partnership and strong support from the United States of America that will not go away. God bless your country. And God willing, we will, in fact, see a much better day for your country.
PRIME MINISTER YATSENYUK: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Let me shift to my native language.
(As interpreted) Mr. Vice President, between our two countries there is an agreement about strategic partnership. And this agreement is not only on the paper. This agreement is in action. The goal of this agreement is the development of free democratic and stable Ukrainian society and government. The goal of this agreement and objective of it is our joint work and cooperation in providing stability and peace on the continent. The goal of this agreement is to support the strategic relations between the United States and Ukraine.
We value the position of the United States and the support that the Ukrainian people receive from the United States during the past few months -- the Ukrainian people that choose their own way to manage their own country, the people of Ukraine that continues its fight for its rights, democracy and for the -- for having Ukraine as a successful country.
We separately would like to thank the administration of the United States of America, the Congress and the Senate for the allocation of $1 billion as a financial assistance for the Ukrainian economy. Ukraine asked and adopted several necessary even though complicated decisions and difficult decisions in order to reestablish financial programs with the international financial institutions.
And when we say about the package of difficult reforms, we are saying that these reforms in the packet was not passed from the IMF. It was passed and adopted for Ukraine. Ukraine needs real reforms.
Mr. Vice President, we value the level of technical assistance that is provided by the government of the United States. I separately would like focus on the corruption issue. The government of Ukraine understands and is conscious that the money is given only to those countries that actually overcome and fight corruption. And one of the key goals and objectives of my government and the new president that should be elected on May 25th of this year is real fight against corruption and victory over corruption.
And on the other note I would like to underscore our joint vision with regard to the needs of constitutional reforms in Ukraine. And we implement -- we are planning to implement the constitutional reform, not just to meet the requirements of Geneva agreement, but rather to answer the request of Russia. The constitutional reform in the country is the way to restore the balance of power. This is the requirement of the Ukrainian people. Thus within the constitutional reform we plan to provide additional power to regions and give the Ukrainian regions opportunity to have independent financial and budget policy in order for them to have special status for national minorities and language of national minorities, including the Russian language and make sure that every citizen of Ukraine would be able to affect the local and the central government. Thus the constitutional reform should be implemented and must be implemented. And it is inadmissible when the constitution is written and drawn for specific president. Constitution should be drawn for the Ukrainian citizens and Ukrainian people.
As to our talk about the energy, Mr. Vice President, I would like to reiterate that Ukraine is ready for cooperation in the broadest sense with both U.S. and European companies. We do require investments into our energy sector, and the best response for energy independence from Russia will be the presence here in Ukraine of European and American investors, and among other issues related to review, joint-use and modernization of the Ukrainian gas transportation system.
As to the elections, we did discuss this topic, and we appreciate the support of the United States in the build-up of democracy in Ukraine. We clearly understand that whatever happens in the east, and is being supported by the Russia Federation, has, among other goals, the goal of disrupting the presidential elections, while the goal of the government is to conduct fair and transparent elections.
Even now we have two dozens of candidates who run in this election who represent the whole spectrum of the political parties of Ukraine. And each of them could receive the needed support from the voters. Ukraine does require a legitimately elected president, something that Russia does not need. We will carry out the presidential elections and the elections in Ukraine, which will be conducted with the involvement of both the OECD observers and observers from the international community, should be open, fair, transparent and legitimate. Let me reiterate Ukraine should have a new president who will support the reforms -- curbing corruption, introducing changes and amendments to the constitution of Ukraine, who will support integration with Europe, energy independence, fostering of democracy and independence of the Ukrainian state.
Separately we discussed with Mr. Vice President our northern neighbors. Let me reiterate the position of the Ukrainian government once again. Never, under no circumstance Ukraine would acknowledge the annexation of Crimea. We will require from our Russian neighbors to immediately get their special forces out of the eastern region of Ukraine, so get its military forces from Crimea, thus closing down this ignoble page in history of occupation of our territory by the Russian troops. We believe that in this century and in the modern world, no country should be allowed to behave like an armed bandit.
And it’s inadmissible, especially for those countries who are standing members of the Security Council of the United Nations. And it’s inadmissible to a country that used to be a member of G8. Russia should stick to its international commitments and obligations. We are not asking anything from Russia. What we demand from them is one thing and only, they should deliver on the international commitments, and they should not behave as gangsters in the modern century.
Ukraine has signed the first part of the political part of the association agreement with the European Union, and for us this association agreement lays the course that is required to successfully implement reforms. This is the best agenda for Ukraine. In order to implement the reforms and to make Ukraine a country that meets the highest standards of democracy, that meets the highest standards of curbing corruption, that meets the highest standards of protecting human rights and the rights of citizens.
We acknowledge the challenges that Ukraine is facing. And our government will deliver difficult but so much needed reforms for Ukraine. We would like to thank once again the government of the United States and the people of the United States for their support. You also witnessed a very difficult path in developing your nation. We are going through this path. You became a successful nation. We are becoming a successful nation. If we work together side by side so that the people in the United States and people in Ukraine will live better, and the world will feel safer, then for sure, we’ll all be successful.
Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for your visit.
2:06 P.M. (Local)
Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden at a Meeting with Ukrainian Legislators
10:03 A.M. (Local)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. And I want to thank my colleagues for bringing me back home. For 36 years I sat in our legislature, and I used to actually have this seat in our -- I was the chairman of our committee. Thank you for making me feel relevant again, back in a legislative body.
I’m honored, and I mean this sincerely, I’m honored to be with you all, all members of the Rada representing the whole of Ukraine.
I signed the book in the hotel as I was leaving today. The management asked me to sign their book, and I signed, “Ukraine united, Joe Biden.” And as I look here, this is Ukraine united -- center, south, east, west. And as someone who has held high public office in my country for now 40 years and just because I’ve been around, literally met every major leader in the world in the last 40 years, I don't -- I want you to know I do not underestimate the incredible pressure you all are under. I do not underestimate the challenge that you all face. And I do not underestimate the frustration you must feel when someone like me comes along and says this is a great opportunity for you. (Laughter.) As my mother would say, but for the honor, I’d just as soon as pass the opportunity.
But the truth of the matter is your fellow countrymen expect a whole lot of you right now. Their expectations are high. The demands on you are -- my guess is are fairly extreme. And in addition to that, we have -- there is -- John Kennedy, President Kennedy wrote a book that became very famous called “Profiles in Courage,” and it listed those men and women in our country who had taken political positions that were overwhelmingly interest of the United States of America, but not in their personal interests. That's a profile in courage. I hope none of you have to appear in the first edition of the “Profiles in Courage in Ukraine,” but my expectation is some of you are going to have to make some really difficult, difficult personal decisions.
But you’re facing such unrest and uncertainty, and we can speak a little bit more about that today. But I also think -- it’s easy for me to say -- there’s an expression in English, it says, an expert is anyone from out of town with a briefcase. Well, I don't have a briefcase, and I’m not an expert. But I have an opinion, and I speak for the President of the United States, and he shares the same opinion. And that is that this is a second opportunity to make good on the original promise made by the Orange Revolution. This is a genuine opportunity to get right what is always difficult to do the first time when coming out from under the oppression or control of another power.
You’re a month away from -- I would respectfully suggest, although I will be probably criticized by the press for saying it, what hopefully will be and may be the most important election in Ukrainian history, and that is that you have an opportunity, a chance to bring about an era of reform and democratic renewal that you all hoped for two, five, 10, 15 years ago to lay the groundwork for an even more united and more prosperous Ukraine.
In speaking with your acting President, I was referencing the personal bravery and heroism of Ukrainians is well known. You are a strong, strong, strong people. And I’m not being solicitous. I mean it is real. And you face very daunting problems and some might say humiliating threats that are taking place indirectly. And -- but the opportunity to generate a united Ukraine, getting it right, is within your grasp. And we want to be your partner, your friend in the project. And we’re ready to assist.
I have an expression I use as I’ve gone around the world through my career is you never tell another man or woman what’s in their interest. They know their interest better than you know their interest. And so I want you to know that we are not suggesting we have the answers for you, but we’re merely suggesting that we stand ready to stand with you in every endeavor that you undertake to generate the united prosperous and coherent Ukraine you’re all fighting for.
And to the extent that we can be of small assistance in you holding a free election on May the 25th, we want to be part of that. To the extent that we can help in stabilizing and strengthening Ukraine’s economy by helping you withstand the unfair economic pressure being thrust upon you, we stand ready to do that, and I say the American people stand ready -- not just Barack Obama and Joe Biden -- but the American people.
As you all know well we have a significant Ukrainian-American population. We stand with you. And it is not just a foreign policy judgment, it is a personal -- it’s an emotional commitment, as well, by millions of Americans.
And as you attempt to pursue energy security, there’s no reason why you cannot be energy secure. I mean there isn’t. It will take time. It takes some difficult decisions, but it’s collectively within your power and the power of Europe and the United States. And we stand ready to assist you in reaching that. Imagine where you’d be today if you were able to tell Russia: Keep your gas. It would be a very different world you’d be facing today. It’s within our power to alter that. It will take some time, but it’s within our power. Very difficult decisions, but within our power.
Also to be very blunt about it, and this is a delicate thing to say to a group of leaders in their house of parliament, but you have to fight the cancer of corruption that is endemic in your system right now. It’s not just the United States. You need a court system that not only you and your people, but the rest of the world assumes can actually adjudicate fairly disputes among people. But you have a chance. You have a chance. The constitutional reforms that you are envisioning now are ones that some of you have fought for in various ways your entire career, a balance of power between the parliament and the President. You’ve tried it two different ways. I think you’ve figured it out for you -- not what we think -- what you think is the correct balance.
The decentralization and empowering of local communities -- we call that devolution of power back home -- local communities able to elect their own local officials, control their own budgets, elect their councils. And as I said, maybe if you look around the world at every country that has in the last 30 years come out from under the yoke of another, the hardest thing to put in place is, as I find it around the world, is a court system, is a judicial system. In a sense it maybe is the single most important thing that can occur in any country. And it’s hard. It’s really difficult.
But it’s totally within your power, and sometimes -- presumptuous of me to say this -- but sometimes it’s -- a crisis spawns the commitment, and the desire, the willingness to make some of these bold decisions.
So it is -- I don't want to exaggerate our role or exaggerate what we -- how strongly we feel, but the United States supports the rights, the freedoms and the fundamental dignity of the people of Ukraine, all the people of Ukraine.
And you may have different traditions. It’s not quite the same, but we understand different traditions in our country -- not as deeply as you do, but we are the most heterogeneous democracy in the world. We’re soon going to get the point where over 50 percent of the United States of America is made up of people of non-European stock; the majority of the American people are not of European origin in 2020. We understand. We have millions of Muslims. We have hundreds -- but it’s not quite the same. We’re not up against a border. We’re not sitting against a border of another powerful nation.
And so -- but, we, in fact -- these different traditions, different languages, and sometimes different perspectives, but the one thing I’ve observed, even with what’s going on in the east, is that there is a much greater desire to call oneself a Ukrainian than to call oneself anything else. And that’s a major, major, major unifying power, no matter how different the traditions are.
So I’m confident -- presumptuous of me to say this -- I’m confident that in your constitutional reforms, you will find a way to guarantee those traditions and at the same time strengthen Ukrainian unity. And to the extent that the United States of America can be of assistance in that effort, we stand ready to do that.
I thank you -- and I mean this sincerely -- for the honor of being able to speak here in the Rada, or at least a committee room of the Rada.
10:15 A.M. (Local)