IRAN: President Obama outlines position on Islamic Republic to BBC Persian

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President Obama gave a much-anticipated interview to the BBC Persian’s Bahman Kalbasi on Friday in which he tackled Iran’s nuclear program, sanctions, Afghanistan, the Arab-Israeli peace process and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial comments blaming the American government for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“It was offensive. It was hateful, and particularly for him to make the statement here in Manhattan, just a little north of ground zero, where families lost their loved ones,” Obama said of Ahmadinejad’s comments made during a speech on Thursday at the United Nations in New York. “It just shows once again the sort of difference between how the Iranian leadership and this regime operates and how I think the vast majority of the Iranian people -- who are respectful and thoughtful -– think about these issues.”

Obama went on to respond to criticism that sanctions against Iran run counter to the message of diplomacy he offered in his first direct message to the Iranian people, which was broadcast last year on the occasion of the Persian new year.

“Iran has not been able to convince the international community that its nuclear program is peaceful,” Obama said. “This is not a matter of us choosing to impose punishment on the Iranians. This is a matter of the Iranian government, I think, ultimately betraying the interests of its own people by isolating it further.”


Obama appeared to sidestep a question about the humanitarian impact of the sanctions, including an increase in the price of food and medicine, reiterating his position that the Iranian government is responsible for changing its actions.

“When people inside of Iran are asking themselves, ‘Why is it that we can’t get spare parts or food prices are going up?’...They have to look at the management of their own government, both in terms of the economic management but also in terms of them deciding that it’s a higher priority to pursue a covert nuclear program than it is to make sure that their people have opportunity,” he said.

The American president went on to say that if sanctions fail, the “strong preference” of the United States is that the nuclear issue be resolved peacefully, but he did not explicitly rule out a military option.

“I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals,” Obama said in response to a question about a possible Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Obama also lent rhetorical support to the opposition movement that has become known as the green movement and clarified his plan for Afghanistan, but was cautious when discussing the possibility of working with Iran to stabilize Afghanistan.

“Starting in July 2011, we’ll begin to draw down those additional troops, but we’re not going to suddenly leave, turn off the lights and go home,” he said. “We will transition so that [the Afghan Security Forces] are starting to take over more responsibility for security.”

Obama also talked about the Arab-Israeli peace process as talks threatened to break down this week over Israeli settlement expansion, and implied that Iran is supporting “fun terrorist activity” in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

‘I think most Iranian people are -- are looking for is that Palestinians have their right to a sovereign state,’ he said. “Well, there’s only one way to achieve that, and that is by peace with Israel.”

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut