President Barack Obama, who as promised gave one of his Rose Garden questions today to a reporter profiled in the Washington press for her frustration about the general isolation of the president from White House correspondents, answered directly — if not in complete detail — about his intentions for ratcheting up sanctions against Russia.
His guest, however, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, averted the question about her reported view that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “not in touch with reality” and a “threat to Europe.”
“Every day we’re watching the events in Ukraine… with deep concern,” Obama told Lesley Clark, of McClatchy Newspapers, who asked about the possibility of sectoral sanctions, particularly in the energy industry and posed the question about Putin to Merkel.
“The next step is going to be broader-based, sectoral sanctions regime,” Obama said. “hat we’ve said is we want to keep open the possibility of resolving the issue diplomatically.”
Yet if the situation in Ukraine grows so severe that elections there are impeded, he said, “we will have no choice but to move forward with additional sanctions…. The goal is not to punish Russia, the goal is to give them an incentive to choose a better course.”
“ How we structure these sectoral sanctions, the experts are working on,” Obama said. “When it comes to sectoral sanctions, we’re looking at a whole range of issues. Energy flows from Russia to Europe, those occurred even in the Cold war, at the height of the Cold War… The idea that you’re going to turn off the tap…is unrealistic.”
There are other options in the arms and finance sector regarding lines of credit, he said, avoiding delving “into details at this stage. .. Our hope is that we don’t have to deploy them.”
Merkel, speaking through an interpreter at the joint press conference the two leaders conducted, said of the sanctions:
“I agree with the American president, they are not an end in itself… Combined with the offer that we want diplomatic solutions, it is a very necessary second component to show that we are serious about our principles… Should further destabilization happen, we will move to a third stage of sanctions.”
As for Putin’s mental stability and threat to Europe, however, the chancellor wasn’t going there today.