ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
At least 70 people are dead in Nice, France, tonight. A truck that officials say was full of explosives plowed into a crowd. People had gathered on the boardwalk by the Mediterranean Sea to watch fireworks in celebration of Bastille Day. President Obama has issued a statement saying that this, quote, "appears to be a horrific terrorist attack." NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley is with us now. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: What is the significance of that line - that this appears to be a horrific terrorist attack?
HORSLEY: Well, it's the speed with which the president issued that statement, I think, Ari. This is a president who's drawn criticism in the past for his caution in labeling deadly attacks like this as an act of terrorism. But in this case, it's perhaps not much of a stretch. Not only do we have the indications that the truck accelerated into a crowd of people, but also news from the mayor of Nice that the truck itself was laden with grenades and other explosives, so not much of a stretch there. Also, we understand that the government of France has opened a terrorism investigation.
What we don't know, of course, is who's responsible. And the president went on to say that he has directed his team here to be in touch with French officials and to offer whatever assistance they can as they investigate the attack and try to bring those responsible to justice.
SHAPIRO: I know you've reached out to the White House tonight. Can we expect to hear more from the president, perhaps a public statement delivered to cameras?
HORSLEY: Well, we don't know if the president's going to speak on camera tonight. There is this complication, as Maura mentioned, that he had pre-taped a town hall meeting that's airing at this hour, at least on the East Coast, on the subject of police and their interactions with communities of color. They don't want to preempt that, obviously. I think that this written statement may be what we get from the president tonight, but we'll wait to see.
SHAPIRO: And what else is the White House doing at this point? When an event like this unfolds, what role is the U.S. administration playing?
HORSLEY: Well, the other thing that the president says in his statement is that, you know, this happened on Bastille Day, obviously a symbolic day - this sort of Fourth of July for France. And it calls attention to our shared values. It's so reminiscent of the statement he made last November after the attack on the Bataclan nightclub and the other soft targets in Paris when he when he spoke about France as our oldest ally and a country with whom we share bonds and values that French people and American people care so dearly about - values which the president says will endure long after this horrific attack is over.
SHAPIRO: You know, Scott, you and I have watched over the years as the U.S., France and other countries have bolstered their security to defend hard targets. But when you see a video like this of a truck accelerating into a crowd of people gathered on a boardwalk, it doesn't seem like the kind of target one can bolster defenses against.
HORSLEY: Well, the real challenge there is, you know, both France and the United States are relatively open societies, and we don't want to barricade everything. And let's not also forget the symbolism of this. I mean, it's akin to an attack on the Pentagon or an attack on the World Trade Center when you attack people watching fireworks on Bastille Day. Obviously, there's this is a freighted message behind this attack.
In terms of the steps that these countries are taking, you know, just last week, President Obama and President Hollande were together, along with other leaders of NATO countries at that summit in Warsaw. And certainly addressing terrorism was high on their agenda. That was not part of the original mission of NATO. It was initially a response to, you know, the Soviet Union. But terrorism is now very much front and center for the NATO allies, including the U.S. and France.
SHAPIRO: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley, thanks very much.
HORSLEY: My pleasure, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.