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NBC "Today" - Transcript

Interview

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MR. LAUER: Senator Barack Obama is on Capitol Hill this morning.

Senator, good morning to you.

SEN. OBAMA: Good morning, Matt.

MR. LAUER: So let me start right off with if you were president of the United States this morning, what would your immediate response be to these missile tests by Iran?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think we've got to gather up all the intelligence necessary with the situation. But there's no doubt that we're seeing rising tensions in the area, and it's part of the reason why it's so important for us to have a coherent policy with respect to Iran. It has to combine much tougher threats of economic sanctions with direct diplomacy, opening up channels of communication, so that we avoid provocation, but we give strong incentives for the Iranians to change their behavior.

We've got to have the kind of aggressive diplomacy that unfortunately has been absent over the last several years. If we don't, then we're going to continue to see rising tensions that could lead into real problems.

MR. LAUER: The state-run media in Iran went out of its way this morning to say that one of these long- or medium-range missiles could reach all of Israel and U.S. bases in that region. So what would your message to Israel be this morning, both publicly and privately?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, as you heard from your own commentator, they have had this kind of long-range capability for some time. And I think it's part of the reason why we've got to proceed aggressively with the kinds of diplomacy in the region as a whole.

Part of the problem that we've got right now is that we've been basically farming out diplomatic activity to the Europeans. We've got to be actively engaged. I've called for, for example, here in the United States, the application of potential divestment of Iranian companies. We just found out that during the Bush years, U.S. exports to Iran have actually increased. That's a mistake. That sends mixed messages to them.

MR. LAUER: Well, let me ask you this, though. At the G-8 meeting being held in Japan right now, the world leaders gathered there, of the eight countries gathered there, announced that they want to send a European foreign policy adviser or official to Tehran to discuss this incentive package that's been offered to the Iranians if they dismantle the uranium enrichment program.

Do you still like that incentive package? Should it be taken off the table? Might it be seen now, in light of these missile tests, as a reward for bad behavior?

SEN. OBAMA: No, I think it's a step in the right direction, but the United States has to be actively engaged in that process. Part of what we have to do is get the Europeans, the Chinese, the Russians, all to recognize that it's in nobody's interests -- including Iran's, I believe -- to have a nuclear weapon that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. And that's something that I intend to make a number one priority when I'm in the White House, making sure they don't have that nuclear capability.

MR. LAUER: I've got about four other subjects I want to get to, so let me move on. I know you're unveiling a new economic agenda this morning that's targeted toward women. And I'm just curious why you feel that women's economic straits right now may be different than men's.

SEN. OBAMA: Well, it's not that women are unique in feeling pressure under this economy. It's the fact that they get paid 78 cents to the dollar when it comes to -- compared to men. And you've got 62 percent of families rely on women for at least half, and maybe more than half, of their total income.

So if we can raise wages and incomes for women, if we can make sure that they've got paid family leave, if they've got more support for child care, if we are overturning the Supreme Court decision that made it harder for women to sue for discrimination when their employer is not giving them equal pay for equal work, that doesn't just benefit women. It benefits all American families. And it's got to be one of our top priorities. It will be when I'm president.

MR. LAUER: Let me ask you about the criticism you've come under recently, Senator, from not only critics, but also some of your supporters who think you moved to the center after the primary races ended so that you're more electable in November.

Let me read you what Bob Herbert said, or wrote, in The New York Times on Tuesday. He said this. Quote: "Senator Obama is not just tacking gently toward the center. He's lurching right when it suits him. He's zigging with the kind of reckless abandon that's guaranteed to cause disillusion, if not whiplash."

Your response has been that you don't think people have been listening to you all along. Give me an example.

SEN. OBAMA: Well, let's take some of the examples that Mr. Herbert cited. My support of faith-based initiatives, that's something I've been talking about for two years. When it comes to my belief, for example, that it is appropriate to apply the death penalty in narrow circumstances when there have been heinous crimes like the rape of a child, that is not something that is new.

MR. LAUER: And on Iraq, when throughout the primaries you did talk about this idea of getting U.S. troops out within 16 months of being elected and now you say, "Look, I'll talk to commanders and generals on the ground, and my ideas are being refined," people do get nervous about that, Senator. You understand that.

SEN. OBAMA: Actually, I don't, Matt, because that's what I've been saying all along, that I would obviously listen to commanders, but as commander in chief, I would be setting strategy. And I have not changed from my position that we can have our troops out at a pace of one to two brigades per month, which adds up to 16 months. So --

MR. LAUER: Well, when you visit Iraq in the not-too-distant future, if commanders on the ground say to you, "Senator, I think, you know, in all due respect, we should stay the course right now," would you refine your position to that extent?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, Matt, what I also -- what I'm also going to be taking into account is the prime minister of Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki, saying that we should have a timetable for withdrawal. The American people believe we need a timetable. The Iraqi government believes that it's ready to stand up and take on these responsibilities.

We are seeing a declining security situation in Afghanistan that has to be shored up. We've got enormous burdens on our military families. And we're spending $10 (billion) to $12 billion a month in Iraq that could be used to put people back to work here in the United States and to create an energy policy that frees ourselves from dependence on foreign oil.

So my job as commander in chief is to listen to the commanders, but to shape a strategy based on all the factors that go into American security. That's not what's being done right now.

MR. LAUER: Let me end on something. I was a little surprised by the attention this got this week, Senator. You conducted or you allowed an interview to be carried out with you and Michelle and your two daughters, aged 10 and 7. Maria Menounos did it for "Access Hollywood," and we actually aired part of it here on our program.

And some people said, "Well, wait a minute. It seems like the senator is trying to have it both ways." On one hand, you want to protect your private life. On the other hand, here you are sitting there with your two daughters and allowing them to answer questions. Did you make the right call on that?

SEN. OBAMA: You know, I think that we got carried away in the moment. We were having a birthday party and everybody was laughing, and suddenly this thing cropped up. And I didn't catch it quickly enough. And I was surprised by the attention it received as well.

MR. LAUER: So if you had to do it over again?

SEN. OBAMA: We wouldn't do it again, and we won't be doing it again.

MR. LAUER: Senator Barack Obama. Senator, thanks very much for your time this morning. I appreciate it.

SEN. OBAMA: Thank you so much.

END.


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