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Boca Raton, Florida
Boca Raton, Florida
Part 3 of the Transcript
MR. SCHIEFFER: A lot to cover. I’d like to move to the next segment: Red lines -- Israel and Iran. Would either of you -- and you’ll have two minutes -- and, President Obama, you have the first go at this one. Would either of you be willing to declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States -- which, of course, is the same promise that we give to our close allies like Japan. And if you made such a declaration, would not that deter Iran? It’s certainly deterred the Soviet Union for a long, long time when we made that promise to our allies.
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, Israel is a true friend; it is our greatest ally in the region. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel. I’ve made that clear throughout my presidency.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So you’re saying we’ve already made that declaration?
THE PRESIDENT: I will stand with Israel if they are attacked. And this is the reason why, working with Israel, we have created the strongest military and intelligence cooperation between our two countries in history. In fact, this week, we’ll be carrying out the largest military exercise with Israel in history -- this very week.
But to the issue of Iran, as long as I’m President of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. I made that clear when I came into office. We then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy. Their currency has dropped 80 percent. Their oil production has plunged to the lowest level since they were fighting a war with Iraq 20 years ago. So their economy is in shambles.
And the reason we did this is because a nuclear Iran is a threat to our national security and it’s a threat to Israel’s national security. We cannot afford to have a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world. Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, and for them to be able to provide nuclear technology to non-state actors, that’s unacceptable. And they have said that they want to see Israel wiped off the map.
So the work that we’ve done with respect to sanctions now offers Iran a choice: They can take the diplomatic route and end their nuclear program, or they will have to face a united world and a United States President -- me -- who said we’re not going to take any options off the table.
The disagreement I have with Governor Romney is that during the course of this campaign, he’s often talked as if we should take premature military action. I think that would be a mistake, because when I’ve sent young men and women into harm’s way, I always understand that that is the last resort, not the first resort.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Two minutes.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Well, first of all, I want to underscore the same point the President made, which is that if I’m President of the United States -- when I’m President of the United States, we will stand with Israel. And if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily. That’s number one.
Number two, with regards to Iran and the threat of Iran -- there’s no question but that a nuclear Iran, a nuclear-capable Iran is unacceptable to America. It presents a threat not only to our friends, but ultimately a threat to us to have Iran have nuclear material, nuclear weapons that could be used against us or used to be threatening to us.
It’s also essential for us to understand what our mission is in Iran, and that is to dissuade Iran from having a nuclear weapon through peaceful and diplomatic means. And crippling sanctions are something I called for five years ago -- when I was in Israel speaking at the Herzliya conference, I laid out seven steps. Crippling sanctions were number one and they do work. You’re seeing it right now in the economy. It’s absolutely the right thing to do to have crippling sanctions. I’d have put them in place earlier, but it’s good that we have them.
Number two, something I would add today is I would tighten those sanctions. I would say that ships that carry Iranian oil can’t come into our ports. I imagine the EU would agree with us as well. Not only ships couldn’t, I’d say companies that are moving their oil can’t; people who are trading in their oil can’t. I would tighten those sanctions further.
Secondly, I’d take on diplomatic isolation efforts. I’d make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the genocide convention. His words amount to genocide in citation. I would indict him for it. I would also make sure that their diplomats are treated like the pariah they are around the world -- the same way we treated the apartheid diplomats of South Africa. We need to increase pressure time and time again on Iran because anything other than a solution to this which says -- which stops this nuclear folly of theirs is unacceptable to America.
And of course, a military action is the last resort. It is something one would only -- only consider if all of the other avenues had been tried to their full extent.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me ask both of you, there are -- as you know, there are reports that Iran and the United States as part of an international group have agreed in principle to talks about Iran’s nuclear program. What is the deal -- if there are such talks, what is the deal that you would accept?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, those are reports in the newspaper. They are not true. But our goal is to get Iran to recognize it needs to give up its nuclear program and abide by the U.N. resolutions that have been in place -- because they have the opportunity to reenter the community of nations. And we would welcome that.
There are people in Iran who have the same aspirations as people all around the world for a better life. And we hope that their leadership takes the right decision. But the deal we’ll accept is they end their nuclear program. It’s very straightforward.
And I’m glad that Governor Romney agrees with the steps that we’re taking. There have been times, Governor, frankly, during the course of this campaign where it sounded like you thought that you’d do the same things we did, but you’d say them louder and somehow that would make a difference. And it turns out that the work involved in setting up these crippling sanctions is painstaking. It’s meticulous.
We started from the day we got into office. And the reason it was so important -- and this is a testament to how we’ve restored American credibility and strength around the world -- is we had to make sure that all the countries participated, even countries like Russia and China, because if it’s just us that are imposing sanctions, we’ve had sanctions in place for a long time. It’s because we got everybody to agree that Iran is seeing so much pressure. And we’ve got to maintain that pressure.
There is a deal to be had, and that is that they abide by the rules that have already been established; they convince the international community they are not pursuing a nuclear program; there are inspections that are very intrusive, but over time what they can do is regain credibility.
In the meantime, though, we’re not going to let up the pressure until we have clear evidence that that takes place.
And one last thing, just to make this point -- the clock is ticking. We’re not going to allow Iran to perpetually engage in negotiations that lead nowhere. And I’ve been very clear to them. Because of the intelligence coordination that we do with a range of countries, including Israel, we have a sense of when they would get breakout capacity, which means that we would not be able to intervene in time to stop their nuclear program. And that clock is ticking.
MR. SCHIEFFER: All right.
THE PRESIDENT: And we’re going to make sure that if they do not meet the demands of the international community, then we are going to take all options necessary to make sure they don't have a nuclear weapon.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Governor.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: I think from the very beginning, one of the challenges we’ve had with Iran is that they have looked at this administration and felt that the administration was not as strong as it needed to be. I think they saw weakness where they had expected to find American strength.
And I say that because from the very beginning, the President, in his campaign some four years ago, said he’d meet with all the world’s worst actors in his first year. He’d sit down with Chavez and Kim Jong-il, with Castro and with President Ahmadinejad of Iran. And I think they looked and thought, well, that's an unusual honor to receive from the President of the United States.
And then the President began what I’ve called an apology tour of going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America. I think they looked at that and saw weakness. Then when there were dissidents in the streets of Tehran, a Green Revolution, holding signs saying, is America with us, the President was silent. I think they noticed that as well. And I think that when the President said he was going to create daylight between ourselves and Israel, that they noticed that as well.
All of these things suggested, I think, to the Iranian mullahs that, hey, we can keep on pushing along here, we can keep talks going on, we’re just going to keep on spinning centrifuges. Now there are some 10,000 centrifuges spinning uranium, preparing to create a nuclear threat to the United States and to the world. That’s unacceptable for us.
And it’s essential for a President to show strength from the very beginning, to make it very clear what is acceptable and not acceptable. And an Iranian nuclear program is not acceptable to us. They must not develop nuclear capability. And the way to make sure they understand that is by having from the very beginning the tightest sanctions possible. They need to be tightened. Our diplomatic isolation needs to be tougher. We need to indict Ahmadinejad. We need to put the pressure on them as hard as we possibly can, because if we do that, we won’t have to take the military action.
THE PRESIDENT: Bob, let me just respond. Nothing Governor Romney just said is true, starting with this notion of me apologizing. This has been probably the biggest whopper that’s been told during the course of this campaign. And every fact-checker and every reporter who’s looked at it, Governor, has said this is not true.
And when it comes to tightening sanctions, look, as I said before, we’ve put in the toughest, most crippling sanctions ever. And the fact is, while we were coordinating an international coalition to make sure these sanctions were effective, you were still invested in a Chinese state oil company that was doing business with the Iranian oil sector. So I’ll let the American people decide, judge who is going to be more effective and more credible when it comes to imposing crippling sanctions.
And with respect to our attitude about the Iranian Revolution, I was very clear about the murderous activities that had taken place and that was contrary to international law and everything that civilized people stand for. And so the strength that we have shown in Iran is shown by the fact that we’ve been able to mobilize the world.
When I came into office, the world was divided; Iran was resurgent. Iran is at its weakest point economically, strategically, militarily, than in many years. And we are going to continue to keep the pressure on to make sure that they do not get a nuclear weapon. That’s in America’s national interest, and that will be the case so long as I’m President.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: We’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran. We’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran. And we should not have wasted these four years to the extent they’ve continued to be able to spin these centrifuges and get that much closer. That’s number one.
Number two, Mr. President, the reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq, and -- and, by the way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region, but you went to the other nations. And, by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel. And then in those nations, and on Arabic TV, you said that America had been dismissive and derisive. You said that on occasion America has dictated to other nations. Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictator.
THE PRESIDENT: Bob, let me respond. If we’re going to talk about trips that we’ve taken -- when I was a candidate for office, the first trip I took was to visit our troops. And when I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn’t take donors, I didn’t attend fundraisers. I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.
And then I went down to the border town of Sderot, which had experienced missiles raining down from Hamas. And I saw families there who showed me where missiles had come down near their children’s bedrooms, and I was reminded of what that would mean if those were my kids -- which is why, as President, we funded an Iron Dome program to stop those missiles. So that’s how I’ve used my travels, when I traveled to Israel and when I traveled to the region.
And the central question at this point is going to be who’s going to be credible to all parties involved. And they can look at my track record -- whether it’s Iran’s sanctions, whether it’s dealing with counterterrorism, whether it’s supporting democracy, whether it’s supporting women’s rights, whether it’s supporting religious minorities -- and they can say that the President of the United States and the United States of America has stood on the right side of history. And that kind of credibility is precisely why we’ve been able to show leadership on a wide range of issues facing the world right now.
MR. SCHIEFFER: What if the Prime Minister of Israel called you on the phone and said, “Our bombers are on the way. We’re going to bomb Iran” -- what do you say?
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Bob, let’s not go into hypotheticals of that nature. Our relationship with Israel, my relationship with the Prime Minister of Israel is such that we would not get a call saying our bombers are on the way or their fighters are on the way. This is the kind of thing that would have been discussed and thoroughly evaluated well before that kind of last minute --
MR. SCHIEFFER: So you’re saying --
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: I’m just saying that’s just not --
MR. SCHIEFFER: Okay, well, let’s see what --
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Let’s come back to what the President was speaking about, which is what’s happening in the world, and the President’s statement that things are going so well. Look, I look at what’s happening around the world and I see Iran four years closer to a bomb. I see the Middle East with a rising tide of violence, chaos, tumult. I see jihadists continuing to spread -- whether they’re rising or just about the same level, hard to precisely measure but it’s clear they’re there. They’re very strong. I see Syria with 30,000 civilians dead. Assad is still in power. I see our trade deficit with China larger than it’s -- growing larger every year, as a matter of fact. I look around the world and I don’t feel that -- you see North Korea continuing to export their nuclear technology. Russia has said they’re not going to follow Nunn-Lugar anymore. They’re -- back away from a nuclear proliferation treaty that we had with them.
I look around the world -- I don’t see our influence growing around the world. I see our influence receding -- in part because of the failure of the President to deal with our economic challenges at home; in part because of our withdrawal from our commitment to our military in the way I think it ought to be; in part because of the turmoil with Israel. I mean, the President received a letter from 38 Democrat senators saying that tensions with Israel were a real problem. They asked him, please repair the tension -- Democrat senators -- please repair the damage in his own party.
THE PRESIDENT: All right, Governor, the problem is, is that on a whole range of issues -- whether it’s the Middle East, whether it’s Afghanistan, whether it’s Iraq, whether it’s now Iran -- you’ve been all over the map. I mean, I’m pleased that you now are endorsing our policy of applying diplomatic pressure and potentially having bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program.
But just a few years ago, you said that’s something you’d never do. In the same way that you initially opposed a timetable in Afghanistan; now you’re for it, although it depends. In the same way that you say you would have ended the war in Iraq, but recently gave a speech saying that we should have 20,000 more folks in there. The same way that you said that it was mission creep to go after Qaddafi.
When it comes to going after Osama bin Laden, you said, well, any President would make that call. But when you were a candidate in 2008 -- as I was -- and I said if I got bin Laden in our sights, I would take that shot, you said we shouldn’t move heaven and earth to get one man. You said we should ask Pakistan for permission. And if we had asked Pakistan for permission, we would not have gotten it [him]. And it was worth moving heaven and earth to get him
After we killed bin Laden, I was at Ground Zero for a memorial and talked to a young woman who was four years old when 9/11 happened. And the last conversation she had with her father was him calling from the Twin Towers, saying, “Peyton, I love you, and I will always watch over you.” And for the next decade she was haunted by that conversation. And she said to me, “By finally getting bin Laden, that brought some closure to me.” And when we do things like that, when we bring those who have harmed us to justice, that sends a message to the world, and it tells Peyton that we did not forget her father.
MR. SCHIEFFER: All right.
THE PRESIDENT: And I make that point because that’s the kind of clarity of leadership -- and those decisions are not always popular. Those decisions generally are not poll-tested. And even some in my own party, including my current Vice President, had the same critique as you did. But what the American people understand is, is that I look at what we need to get done to keep the American people safe and to move our interests forward, and I make those decisions.
MR. SCHIEFFER: All right, let’s go and that leads us -- this takes us right to the next segment, Governor, America’s longest war, Afghanistan and Pakistan --
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Bob --
MR. SCHIEFFER: Governor, you get to go first here.
MR. SCHIEFFER: You can’t -- okay, but you can’t have the President just lay out a whole series of items without giving me a chance to respond.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, with respect, sir, you had laid out quite a program there.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Well, that's probably true. (Laughter.)
MR. SCHIEFFER: And we’ll give you -- we’ll give you --
THE PRESIDENT: We’ll agree --
MR. SCHIEFFER: We’ll catch up. The United States is scheduled to turn over responsibility for security in Afghanistan to the Afghan government in 2014. At that point we will withdraw our combat troops, leave a smaller force of Americans -- if I understand our policy -- in Afghanistan for training purposes. It seems to me the key question here is what do you do if the deadline arrives and it is obvious the Afghans are unable to handle their security? Do we still leave? And I believe, Governor Romney, you go first.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Well, we’re going to be finished by 2014. And when I’m President, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014. The commanders and the generals there are on track to do so. We’ve seen progress over the last several years. The surge has been successful, and the training program is proceeding apace. There are a large number of Afghan security forces -- 350,000 -- that are ready to step in to provide security, and we’re going to be able to make that transition by the end of 2014. So our troops will come home at that point.
I can tell you at the same time that we will make sure that we look at what’s happening in Pakistan and recognize that what’s happening in Pakistan is going to have a major impact on the success in Afghanistan. And I say that because I know a lot of people just feel like we should brush our hands and walk away -- and I don't mean you, Mr. President -- but some people in our nation feel that Pakistan isn’t being nice to us and that we should just walk away from them.
Pakistan is important to the region, to the world, and to us, because Pakistan has a hundred nuclear warheads, and they're rushing to build a lot more. They’ll have more than Great Britain sometime in the relatively near future. They also have the Haqqani Network and the Taliban existent within their country.
And so a Pakistan that falls apart, becomes a failed state, would be of extraordinary danger to Afghanistan and to us. And so we’re going to have to remain helpful in encouraging Pakistan to move towards a more stable government and rebuild a relationship with us. And that means that our aid that we provide to Pakistan is going to have to be conditioned upon certain benchmarks being met. So for me, I look at this as both a need to help move Pakistan in the right direction and also to get Afghanistan to be ready, and they will be ready by the end of 2014.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: When I came into office, we were still bogged down in Iraq, and Afghanistan had been drifting for a decade. We ended the war in Iraq, refocused our attention on Afghanistan. And we did deliver a surge of troops. That was facilitated in part because we had ended the war in Iraq. And we are now in a position where we have met many of the objectives that got us there in the first place.
Part of what had happened is we had forgotten why we had gone. We went because there were people who were responsible for 3,000 American deaths. And so we decimated al Qaeda’s core leadership in the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. We then started to build up Afghan forces, and we're now in a position where we can transition out, because there’s no reason why Americans should die when Afghans are perfectly capable of defending their own country.
That transition has to take place in a responsible fashion. We’ve been there a long time, but we’ve got to make sure that we and our coalition partners are pulling out responsibly and giving Afghans the capabilities that they need.
But what I think the American people recognize is after a decade of war, it’s time to do some nation-building here at home. And what we can now do is free up some resources to, for example, put Americans back to work -- especially our veterans -- rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our schools; making sure that our veterans are getting the care that they need when it comes to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury; making sure that the certifications that they need for good jobs of the future are in place.
I was having lunch with some -- a veteran in Minnesota who had been a medic dealing with the most extreme circumstances. When he came home and he wanted to become a nurse, he had to start from scratch. And what we’ve said is let’s change those certifications. The First Lady has done great work with an organization called Joining Forces, putting our veterans back to work. And as a consequence, veterans’ unemployment is actually now lower than the general population; it was higher when I came into office.
So those are the kinds of things that we can now do because we’re making that transition in Afghanistan.
MR. SCHIEFFER: All right, let me go to Governor Romney, because you talked about Pakistan and what needs to be done there. General Allen, our commander in Afghanistan, says that Americans continue to die at the hands of groups who are supported by Pakistan. We know that Pakistan has arrested the doctor who helped us catch Obama -- bin Laden. It still provides safe haven for terrorists. Yet we continue to give Pakistan billions of dollars. Is it time for us to divorce Pakistan?
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