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NBC Today - Transcript

Interview

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NBC Today - Transcript

MR. LAUER: Senator Barack Obama is in Charlotte, North Carolina this morning.

Senator, good to see you. Nice to have you with us.

SEN. OBAMA: Thank you, Matt. Great to talk to you.

MR. LAUER: Let's start where Andrea left off, this idea that when the guys challenged the gal at this debate this week, that in some ways you were ganging up on her. And you heard what Senator Clinton said at Wellesley yesterday. She said that in some ways that all-women's college prepared her for the all-boys' club of presidential politics.

Now, it sounds to me, Senator, as if I just heard the gender card drop. How are you going to deal with it?

SEN. OBAMA: (Laughs.) Well, look, I am assuming and I hope that Senator Clinton wants to be treated like everybody else. And I think that that's why she's running for president.

You know, when we had a debate back in Iowa a while back, we spent, I think, the first 15 minutes of the debate hitting me on various foreign policy issues. And I didn't come out and say, "Look, I'm being hit on because I look different from the rest of the folks on the stage." I assumed it was because there were real policy differences there. And I think that has to be the attitude that all of us take. We're not running for the president of the city council. We're running for the presidency of the United States of America.

MR. LAUER: So you don't feel as if you have to be sensitive at all to this gender issue, that if you do vigorously challenge Senator Clinton that it might take on a more perilous tone than if you vigorously challenge a male candidate?

SEN. OBAMA: No, look, I don't think that people doubt that Senator Clinton is tough. She's used to playing in national politics. And, in fact, that is one of the things that she has suggested is why she should be elected is because she's been playing in this rough-and- tumble stage. So it doesn't make sense for her, after having run that way for eight months, the first time that people start challenging her point of view, that suddenly she backs off and says, "Don't pick on me."

MR. LAUER: Let me --

SEN. OBAMA: I think that is not, obviously, how we would expect her to operate if she were president.

MR. LAUER: Let me turn to the subject of Iran. You gave an interview to The New York Times and you said that if you were elected president, you would, quote, "engage in aggressive personal diplomacy," end quote, with the leaders of that country. So we're talking about face-to-face talks and meetings with the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And you know you've taken some heat for this in the past. Senator Clinton called you naive. Some have said you would compromise the prestige of the presidency and this country by dealing with a terrorist leader or terrorist nation. Why are they wrong and why are you right?

SEN. OBAMA: Because since JFK said that we should not negotiate out of fear but we shouldn't fear to negotiate, I think that we have made progress consistently, whether it was negotiations with China or other countries, the Soviet Union, when we know where we stand and we are willing to go forward and say where we stand very clearly, to offer not only sticks but also to offer carrots, in order to try to accomplish some of our goals.

MR. LAUER: However, officials at the United Nations --

SEN. OBAMA: Now, I would be very clear with --

MR. LAUER: But officials at the United Nations, Senator, have met with the leaders of Iran, and yet Iran still defies some --

SEN. OBAMA: Matt, that's not the same thing for officials of the United Nations to meet. Now, we would be very clear with Iran and say, "We don't accept your development of nuclear weapons because that could trigger an arms race in the Middle East. We don't accept your funding of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. We reject totally your rhetoric with respect to Israel and will do whatever it takes to protect them."

But nevertheless, there is the potential, at least, for us finding ways of peacefully resolving some of our conflicts, and that effort has not been attempted. And if we don't make that attempt, then we are going to find ourselves continuing on the path that Bush and Cheney have set, and we're seeing the rhetoric rise every day.

It has consequences not only for our strategic interests. It has consequences for our troops in Iraq and it has consequences for our economy. There's a reason why oil prices are now approaching $100 a barrel, something that you talked about at the beginning of the show.

MR. LAUER: Exactly, and actually what I want to end this interview on, and that is the economy. You've seen all the economic data, Senator Obama. Are we headed into a recession?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I don't know that we're headed into a recession. What I know is that we've got some structural problems in our economy. Part of it has to do with the war talk coming out of the Bush administration. Part of it has to do with the housing crisis and our failure to properly regulate some of the subprime lending that's been taking place. Part of it has to do with the fact that we still have an administration that has been operating irresponsibly when it comes to fiscal issues.

Those are the major structural issues that we are going to have to fix. The next president is going to have to be much more attentive to these problems and to restore some sense of balance so that we don't have a tax code that's giving huge tax breaks to folks who don't need it while ordinary families are struggling each and every day.

MR. LAUER: But in the last 10 seconds -- let me just go back to that, because as president of the United States, it would be your job to get ahead of the curve on something like a recession.

SEN. OBAMA: Absolutely.

MR. LAUER: So let me ask you again. In your gut, do you think we're headed to a recession?

SEN. OBAMA: In my gut, what I believe is that the economy has enormous strengths, but we have not attended to some basic issues that, if we leave unattended, then we're going to continue to have some problems.

MR. LAUER: But it's kind of a yes or no answer. You're not answering the question. Do you think we're headed to a recession?

SEN. OBAMA: But Matt, I'm not going to predict that we're going to go into a recession. That would be, I think, irresponsible. Right now what we need to do is figure out how can we get hold of our energy policy, how can we deal with this subprime lending crisis. If we do some key things short-term and then deal with issues like education long-term, there's no reason why the American economy can't continue to be strong.

MR. LAUER: Senator Barack Obama, joining us from Charlotte, North Carolina this morning. Senator, I thank you for your time.

SEN. OBAMA: Thank you, Matt.


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