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Obama: ‘I Would’ Talk to Iran and Syria

It’s off to the races for Barack Obama, which includes fielding questions about U.S. policy towards Iran and Syria, as he did in an interview that aired last night on 60 Minutes.

Like Clinton and Edwards, Obama advocates talks with Tehran and Damascus, and keeping “all options” on the table when it comes to preventing the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Still, the differences in tone and style are telling. As we covered in our pages this week, both Clinton and Edwards have, as of late, thrown red meat to Jewish audiences on the issue of Iran. In contrast, Obama, as M.J. Rosenberg points out over at TPMCafe, did not do much saber rattling at all.

Click here for the full interview transcript, or read on for the excerpts dealing with Iran and Syria, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

KROFT: Would you talk to Iran or Syria?

OBAMA: Yes. I think that the notion that this administration has – that not talking to our enemies is effective punishment – is wrong. It flies in the face of our experiences during the Cold War. Ronald Reagan understood that it may be an evil empire, but it’s worthwhile for us to periodically meet to see are there areas of common interest. And most importantly, those conversations allow the possibility that our ideas and our values gain greater exposure in these countries. The fact of the matter is that Iran currently is governed by an oppressive regime, one that I think is a threat to the region and to our allies, but there are a lot of people in Iran who potentially would like to be part of this broader community of nations. For us not to be in a conversation with them doesn’t make sense. Now I don’t think that that conversation should be conditioned on our accepting their support of terrorism or their building nuclear capacity and potentially sparking an arms race in the Middle East, any more than our conversations with the Kremlin presumed that we approved of their aggression around the world. You know, we can have a robust strategy of blocking and containing aggressive actions by hostile or rogue states, but still open up the possibility that over time those relationships may evolve and they may change. And there may be opportunities for us to resolve some of our differences, not all of them, but some of them in a constructive way.

KROFT: Would you advocate the use of military force to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?

OBAMA: I think we should keep all options on the table, but I think that our first step should be a much more aggressive approach to diplomacy than we’ve displayed thus far. And I think this is an example of where our blundering in Iraq has cost us dearly. Iran’s the big winner from the Iraq War. They have gained immeasurable strength in the Middle East, and because of the strains that it’s placed on our alliances and our leverage with other countries around the world, it’s made it more difficult for us to be able to mobilize international pressure to get them to stand down from what I believe is a process of developing nuclear weapons.

KROFT: Do you have solutions for the Palestinian/Israeli conflict?

OBAMA: Well, probably not solutions that I can lay out in the next two minutes. Look, I think that both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are weary of the ongoing conflict. I think they want to see solutions. What we don’t have right now, particularly in the Palestinian community, are a set of leaders who have both the will and the capacity to renounce violence as a strategy to resolve the problems and to actually enforce any agreement that might be reached with the Israelis. And that is something that we can’t do single-handedly, but if we’re much more active than we’ve been, if we’re paying attention, if we’re deploying special envoys, if we are indicating to the Palestinians that we are ready and willing to work with them and the Israelis in finding an agreeable two-state solution, then it is possible that that leadership will emerge.

KROFT: You have a government that’s run by Hamas.

OBAMA: Well, that’s right. Whether it is a maturation of Hamas leadership where they realize that violence is leading their people nowhere, or it’s Fattah cleaning up its act and recognizing that they have to be a responsible government as opposed to a patronage system in the Palestinian Authority – the possibilities of those two parties coming together and then being willing to say to Israel, “We renounce violence. We recognize your right to exist. We accept the various agreements that have been signed between the Israeli government and the Palestinian people, and we are ready to create a two state solution.” Until that happens I think we’re not going see much progress. But the United States being actively engaged in encouraging that process I think is critical.

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