Full Transcript: Israel, Iran Segment of Presidential Foreign Policy Debate
Below The Algemeiner has posted a full transcript of the segments of tonight’s presidential debate that dealt with Israel and the threat of a nuclear Iran, courtesy of the New York Times. For a full live blog and commentary on the debate, click here.
MR. SCHIEFFER: A lot to cover. I’d like — (murmurs) — 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 — when we made that promise to our allies.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, 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. And —
MR. SCHIEFFER: So you’re saying we’ve already made that declaration?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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’ve 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 a shambles.
And the reason we did this is because a nuclear Iran is a threat to our national security and it’s threat to Israel’s national security. We cannot afford to have a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world. Iran’s a state sponsor of terrorism, and for them to be able to provide nuclear technology to nonstate 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 rest, not the first resort.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Two minutes.
MR. ROMNEY: Well, first of all, I — I want to underscore the — 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 — 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 — 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’d 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 incitation. 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 — a — 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 — had been tried to their full extent.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me ask both of you, there — 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? Mr. President.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, those were 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 re-enter the community of nations, and we would welcome that. There are — 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 you know, I’m glad that Governor Romney agrees with the steps that we’re taking. You know, there have been times, Governor, frankly, during the course of this campaign, where it sounded like you thought that you’d do the some things we did, but you’d say them louder and somehow that 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. I’m — 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, you know, 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.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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.
MR. 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 — 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 — he’d sit down with Chavez and — and Kim Jong-Il, with Castro and with — with President Ahmadinejad of — of Iran. And — 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 — to various nations in the Middle East and — and criticizing America. I think they looked at that and saw weakness. Then when there were dissidents in the streets of Tehran, the 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 — that they noticed that as well.
All of these things suggested, I think, to the Iranian mullahs that, hey, you know, we can keep on pushing along here; we can keep talks going on, but we’re just going to keep on spinning centrifuges. Now there are some 10,000 centrifuges spinning uranium, preparing to — to create a — a — a — – a nuclear threat to the United States and to the world.
That’s unacceptable for us, and — and — 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.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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’s looked at it. The 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’s 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 — 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 since — than in many years.
MR. ROMNEY: We’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran. We’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran. And — and we should not have wasted these four years to the extent they’ve — they continue 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 — to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to — to Turkey and Iraq. And — and by 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 had dictated to other nations. Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Bob, let me — let me respond. You know, if we’re going to talk about trips that we’ve taken, you know, when I was a candidate for office, 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 — the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the — the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.
And then I went down to the border towns 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 — 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 travel to Israel and when I travel 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 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 — 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 — 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?
MR. 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 action.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So you’re saying just what —
MR. ROMNEY: I’m — that’s — that’s —
MR. SCHIEFFER: OK. But let’s see what — (inaudible) —
MR. ROMNEY: Yes, but let me — let me — let me come back — let’s come back — let’s come back and go back to what the president was speaking about, which is what’s happening in the world and — and — and the president’s statement that things are going so well.
Look, I — 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 — hard to precisely measure, but it’s clear they’re there. They’re very, very strong.
I see Syria with 30,000 civilians dead, Assad 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’s said they’re not going to follow Nunn-Lugar anymore; they’re (back ?) away from their 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 and the way I think it ought to be, in part because of the — the — the turmoil with Israel. I mean, the president received a letter from 38 Democrat senators saying the tensions with Israel were a real problem.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: No.
MR. ROMNEY: They asked him, please repair the tension — Democrat senators — please repair the damage in his — in his own party.
MR. SCHIEFFER (?): All right.