— President Barack Obama, asked at a news conference in Brussels today if he is surprised by the ``backlash” to his agreement to swap five prisoners of the war in Afghanistan for the Taliban-held American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
“But I’ll repeat what I said two days ago,” the president said. “We have a basic principle, we do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind. We had a prisoner of war who’s health had deteriorated, and we were deeply concerned about and we saw an opportunity and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that…
“And with respect to how we announced it, I think it was important for people to understand that this is not some abstraction,” he said. “This is not a political football. You have a couple of parents whose kid volunteered to fight in a distant land, who they hadn’t seen in five years and weren’t sure whether they’d ever see again.
“And as commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces, I am responsible for those kids,” he said. “I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody’s child, and that we don’t condition whether or not we make the efforts to try to get them back ”
Obama also delivered a thank-you note to the British, as he and British Prime Minister David Cameron exchanged jokes about which nation invented which sport:
“You did invent the English language, though,” Obama told Cameron.
“We did,” Cameron said, adding: “You’ve made a few changes.”
“We appreciate it,” Obama said. “We have.”
— US Mission to NATO (@USNATO) June 5, 2014
The public banter at occasions such as this serves to defuse the tension behind the scenes at talks among Group of Seven industrial nation leaders.
The sanctioned and estranged eighth “G” — Russian President Vladimir Putin — is lurking along the sidelines of events today. Obama is dining with French President Francois Hollande, to whom Obama has voiced his displeasure about the French selling warships to Russia. Putin will dine with Hollande separately.
Obama expects to see Putin at the 70th anniversary of the invasion at Normandy tomorrow. And yes, he says, Ukraine is sure to come up.
“I have no doubt that I’ll see Mr. Putin,” Obama said at the news conference with Cameron. “And he and I have always had a business-like relationship. And it is entirely appropriate that he is there to commemorate D-Day, given the extraordinary sacrifices that were made of 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.”