January 11th, 2009
12:53 PM ET
5 years ago

Obama: 'Much more determined' to break Mideast deadlock

Obama says the Israel-Gaza conflict has led him to ramp up peace negotiations in the Middle East.
Obama says the Israel-Gaza conflict has led him to ramp up peace negotiations in the Middle East.

(CNN) - President-elect Barack Obama said Sunday the suffering on both sides of Gaza's borders has led him to ramp up his commitment to working for a peace deal in the Middle East.

"When you see civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli, harmed, under hardship, it's heartbreaking. And obviously what that does is it makes me much
more determined to try to break a deadlock that has gone on for decades now," he told ABC's "This Week."

Rejecting criticism for being relatively quiet on the violence in Gaza, Obama said he believes "the principle of one president at a time has to hold is when it comes to foreign policy. We cannot have two administrations at the same time simultaneously sending signals in a volatile situation.

"But what I am doing right now is putting together the team so that on January 20th, starting on day one, we have the best possible people who are going to be immediately engaged in the Middle East peace process as a whole, that are going to be engaging with all of the actors there, that will work to create a strategic approach that ensures that both Israelis and Palestinians can meet their aspirations," he said.

Asked whether he will be building on President Bush's policy toward the region or offering "a clean break," Obama responded: "I think that if you look
not just at the Bush administration, but also what happened under the Clinton administration, you are seeing the general outlines of an approach. And I think
that players in the region understand the compromises that are going to need to be made."

Dealing with Iran, Obama said, will be "one of our biggest challenges ... Not only is Iran exporting terrorism through Hamas, through Hezbollah, but they are pursuing a nuclear weapon that could potentially trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East."

Iran insists it is not pursuing a nuclear weapon, only nuclear energy. But the Bush administration has said Iran's nuclear program is a guise to build nuclear weapons. European officials - some of whom share the U.S. concerns - have repeatedly tried to broker a resolution to that stalemate.

During the presidential election, Obama vowed to meet with leaders of Iran and several other nations during his first year without preconditions, though his campaign later added that there would be "preparation."

Obama said Sunday that his commitment to "engagement" early on will help send a "signal that we respect the aspirations of the Iranian people, but that
we also have certain expectations in terms of how a international actor behaves."

While vowing quick action on a host of issues, the president-elect warned that some major tasks will take time. Among them is the closing of the prison
at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where about 250 men considered by the government to be suspected terrorists continue to be held.

Asked whether the closure will take place in his first 100 days in office, Obama responded, "That is a challenge. I think it's going to take some time. .. But I don't want to be ambiguous about this. We are going to close Guantanamo and we are going to make sure that the procedures we set up are ones that abide by our Constitution."

Since winning the presidency, Obama has been given intelligence briefings on top secret information that he did not have access to as a candidate or as a
U.S. senator. Asked whether he's been shocked by anything he's learned involving U.S. security, he responded, "There hasn't been something that was
eye-popping. But, you know, the situation still requires vigilance."


Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • Iran • Israel
soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. Moderation

    is CNN providing Obama a News Regulator for his Cabinet ?

    January 11, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  2. Salt & Pepper

    Obama is correct in stating that you need to be dialectic with people. If you are not, how would you expect things to get any better? If no one speaks to one another, you only have chaos and ongoing war factions. If people pay attention to what others are saying, then, humanity presents a chance...

    January 11, 2009 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  3. Meka

    AMERICA, TRULY WOULD HAVE BEEN A STABLE SOCIETY. . . HAD BARACK H. OBAMA - STEPPED IN BEHIND WILLIAM J. CLINTON!

    January 11, 2009 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  4. John

    After WW1 the Western Powers divided up the world moving countries boundaries wherever "they " felt like. This arrogance continued after WW2 and the State of Israel was created on land that was then currently occupied by other people.

    Without going back 2000 years or so, it might seem that addressing more resent border shifts to acknowledge that some people have to right to their homeland would "start" to crack this never ending killing.

    This problem is not all that hard if the worlds governments step back and look at what is fair instead of looking at what's in it for "them" the powers that be!

    Without a consensus on fairness, we are left to the "might makes right" mentality and perpetual WAR.

    January 11, 2009 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  5. sam

    Its an easy concept: Is@rael always right everyone else is a terrorist. Its no brainer

    January 11, 2009 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  6. Curious dude

    Sounds like Obama is going to do exactly the same thing the NEO CONS have been doing. Must have something to do with him being in the CFR.

    January 11, 2009 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  7. Texas Teacher

    Some good points were made... of course, it was difficult to get much out of each question since Obama was interrupted repeatedly! I am very annoyed when a questioner feels that his question or input is more important than that of ... say the next President of the United States! I got the feeling that he was not listening...only thinking of what HE wanted to say next!

    I think Obama held his own most of the time... and once even refusing to be interrupted. My thought was YES, finally, we get to hear a complete response! I'm still shaking off the feeling that I just watched a verbal race.... to see if the PE could be interrupted everytime he spoke... :(

    January 11, 2009 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  8. Mike, Syracuse NY

    Every President since Truman has been trying to fix this problem without success. There will be peace when the Israelis wipe out the Palestinians or vice versa. We have to decide which side we want to win, the democracy or the terrorist thugs.

    January 11, 2009 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  9. ga.

    May God lead you President Obama.

    January 11, 2009 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  10. Buckeye

    Silence is the voice of complicity. And to claim that a defenseless people being slaughtered by the IDF harbors and practices terrorism is the voice of ignorance and arrogance. Where's the change?

    January 11, 2009 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  11. MikeH

    The first signs of even-handedness. Good job Obama.

    But watch out, MOSSAD agents are everywhere in America, and they will do evil things to Americans in the name of Israel.

    January 11, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  12. PA

    Wishing you all the best President Elect Obama. One thing is for sure – You can't possibly do any worse than the previous Administration so it's all up hill after your Inauguration! God Speed. Looking forward to a brighter future.

    January 11, 2009 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  13. Paul in SC

    The liberals main complaint about Bush was we interferred in the affairs of foreign countries. Leave Isreal alone to take care of their own problems. They are not PC and do a darn good job. Get our country moving again. That's what the people elected you to do. Send the terrorist back to the countries they came from and let them deal with these men. We don't want them in the Naval brig in Charleston.

    January 11, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  14. Ted van Tol

    America, you are so blessed with your new President.
    His world vision is amazing, simple and consistent.
    I have no doubt al all that he is a gift off heaven.
    Open your eyes and harts for this humble and honest man who will be a historic President.

    January 11, 2009 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  15. Simmy

    "We cannot have two administrations at the same time.. sending signals in a volatile situation." Well said President-Elect Obama. Intelligence, sound judgment and wisdom at work. God bless you.

    January 11, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  16. Sanity has returned

    The entire ME situation is like a powder keg waiting to blow. In my lifetime, I don't think I've ever seen a new Administration come into such a mess. God Bless you Obama for wanting to take on such a challenge. Good Luck.

    January 11, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  17. Rowny J Vidot

    I think that the power to end this war in the middle east is not in the hands of the Israelis nor the Palestians. If the United States is determined to put an end to this war, it will end, The United States can bring Israel to heel swiftly and in doing so also Hamas., but will it be in their interest to end this war ? that is the big question.

    January 11, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  18. fred

    Decades? Come on Obama, this has gone on for centuries and milleniums. It was going on in Bible times as well.

    January 11, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  19. fred

    However, yea, I do agree, it is at one of its more out-of-hand times. Still, don't blame Israel. If it was the U.S. we'd be doing the same thing.

    January 11, 2009 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  20. Flo

    PE Obama is on the right track ............he shouldn't let people pressure him to take a stand until he is officially in the role as President. Great interview.............He looked fit and upbeat.

    January 11, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  21. Terry

    How unfortunate that God put so much oil under the bare feet of the residents of the Middle East. Otherwise, we could safely ignore this region like we are ignoring Darfur and Zimbabwe. What was He thinking?

    January 11, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  22. SM

    With regard to the Constitution, I believe Obama must find a way to hold Bush and company accountable for their illegal torture policies before someone in the international community steps forward to charge them. Bush and Cheney will not be sleeping very well after leaving office.

    January 11, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  23. sandee in Portland

    Ah, such an intelligent person. I can only hope that he is able to accomplish everything he sets out to do.

    January 11, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  24. Ammar ur Rahman Khan

    I hope he stays true to his words and work for long-lasting peace. For that he would have to appear fair and balanced because if he is viewed as favoring one side over the other, peace in the middle-east will remain elusive. I am sure if he shows commitment and leadership he can make it clear to both sides that peace must be the only option.

    January 11, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  25. John G

    Unfortunately his whole team had a full 8 years to bring peace to the middle east when they worked for Bill Clinton...they didn't pull it off then so why is now different?

    January 11, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
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