President Barack Obama, en route to the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, was making the first visit to Sweden by a sitting American president today.
The president was asked by the Swedish press about the National Security Agency’s telephone and Internet surveillance — and he was asked about, back home, being sometimes accused of “wanting to turn the U.S. into Sweden.”
“Like other countries, we have an intelligence operation that tries to improve our understanding of what’s happening around the world,” Obama said. “What I can say with confidence is that, when it comes to our domestic operations, the concerns that people have back home in the United States of America, we do not surveill the American people or persons within the United States. There are a lot of checks and balances in place to avoid a surveillance state.”
“What we try to do is target very specifically areas of concern” abroad, the president said.
“I haven’t had a chance to wander around Stockholm as much as I would like,” Obama said, turning to the better question. “What I know about Sweden offers us some good lessons. No. 1, the work you’ve done on energy offers a lesson… Sweden also has been able to have a robust market economy while recognizing that there are some investments in education or infrastructure or research that are important…”
“I have to say that if I were here in Europe, I’d probably be considered right in the middle, maybe center left, maybe center right, depending on the country,” the Democratic president said. “In the United States, sometimes the names I’m called are quite different.”