Obama: 'Iran understands that they cannot fight us'

Obama explains his Iran views to NYT columnist Thomas Friedman
(Image credit: The New York Times)

In a lengthy interview over the weekend with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, President Obama laid out his own version of an Obama Doctrine: "We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities." Friedman's interview focused mostly on Iran, Israel, and how the landmark nuclear agreement hammered out between the U.S., Iran, and five other nations affects U.S. security and that of U.S. allies in the Middle East.

"We're not done yet," Obama said of the interim nuclear deal. "There are a lot of details to be worked out, and you could see backtracking and slippage and real political difficulties, both in Iran and obviously here in the United States Congress." But if Iran's nuclear weapons potential can be locked in a box for at least a decade or two, the U.S., its allies, and the world will be safer, he argued. And the U.S. should have enough self-confidence to take a few calculated gambles:

We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that's the thing that sometimes, as I hear these debates going on, people don't seem to understand. You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren't that many risks for us. It's a tiny little country. It's not one that threatens our core security interests.... And if it turns out that it doesn't lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies. The same is true with respect to Iran, a larger country, a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran's defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. [Obama, to The New York Times]

Watch the entire 45-minute interview or read more excerpts at The New York Times — Obama has messages for Iran, Israel, and Sunni Arab Gulf states — or watch Obama explain his main thesis below. —Peter Weber

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