“60 Minutes” interviewed President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, and the segment featured plenty of talk about Iran, Israel and the tumult in the Middle East.
President Obama was asked about criticisms from Republican nominee Mitt Romney that he’s been weak on foreign policy, and specifically on Iran and Syria. Obama responded by noting that he managed to end the war in Iraq, aggressively go after al-Qaeda and kill Osama bin Laden.
“So I’ve executed on my foreign policy. And it’s one that the American people largely agree with. So if Gov. Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so,” Obama said.
This line of attack from the Obama camp on Romney is not new. After Romney’s Republican convention address, Vice President Joe Biden suggested: "He implies by the speech that he’s ready to go to war in Syria and Iran.” (Romney, however, actually did not mention Syria in his speech.)
Romney, in his “60 Minutes” interview, attacked Obama for not meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu during the Israeli prime minister’s U.S. visit: “It sends a message throughout the Middle East that somehow we distance ourselves from our friends and I think the exact opposite approach is what’s necessary.” Romney made the criticism in the context of discussing anti-American sentiment in the Middle East.
In an unaired portion of the interview, Obama stressed that he was determined to “not jump the gun” on military action and would explore non-military options to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Here’s the video:
Here’s my transcription of that portion of the interview:
Steve Kroft of ’60 Minutes’: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to want you to commit to military action against Iran if they develop a nuclear weapon. Do you think the United States and the American people want to get involved in another war in the Middle East?
Obama: Well I think that the American people wisely want their president to make a clear-eyed, sober assessment and not jump the gun when it comes to another military involvement after a decade of war. I’ve been very clear that we do not believe that Iran having a nuclear weapon would be in the national security interest of the United States. We’re going to do everything we can to prevent it, but what I think the American people expect me to do is also assess: Are there ways of achieving that goal, working not only with Israel but the entire international community, in a way that doesn’t involve another military conflict. And as long as I believe that I’ve got time to make that happen, then I’m going to act consistent with the wisdom of the American people.
Obama was also asked about Iran and the issue of Israeli pressure in portions of the interview that aired. Here’s the transcript from CBS (which, warning, may have some typos in places):
Kroft: How much pressure have you been getting from Prime Minister Netanyahu to make up your mind to use military force in Iran?
Obama: Well, look, I have conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu all the time. And I understand and share Prime Minister Netanyahu’s insistence that Iran should not obtain a nuclear weapon because it would threaten us, it would threaten Israel and it would threaten the world and kick off a nuclear arms race.
Kroft: You don’t feel any pressure from Prime Minister Netanyahu in the middle of a campaign to try and get you to change your policy and draw a line in the sand? You don’t feel any pressure?
Obama: When it comes to our national security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out any noise that’s out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis on these issues because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.
Obama also discussed Arab Spring, and sounded a hopeful note:
Kroft: Have the events that took place in the Middle East, the recent events in the Middle East given you any pause about your support for the governments that have come to power following the Arab Spring?
Obama: Well, I’d said even at the time that this is going to be a rocky path. The question presumes that somehow we could have stopped this wave of change. I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to do to align ourselves with democracy, universal rights, a notion that people have to be able to participate in their own governance. But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because, you know, in a lot of these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam. The one part of society that hasn’t been controlled completely by the government. There are strains of extremism, and anti-Americanism, and anti-Western sentiment. And, you know, can be tapped into by demagogues. There will probably be some times where we bump up against some of these countries and have strong disagreements, but I do think that over the long term we are more likely to get a Middle East and North Africa that is more peaceful, more prosperous and more aligned with our interests.