January 11th, 2009
12:53 PM ET
9 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. alvino

    If it gets too difficult, Obama could probably hide out at Camp David like "W."

    January 11, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  2. dr.mimi de la cruz








    January 11, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  3. Joe M

    Perhaps Obama can get an explanation that rings true from the Israeli's as to why a school run by the U.N. is a threat and all those injured kids are justified.

    Make no mistake, Hamas should not be lobbing missles into Israel and that Israel has every right to defend itself, however, the degree of defense is questionable.

    January 11, 2009 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  4. carol

    I hope PE Obama will not back track on his "talking to our enemies as well as our friends" approach he made during the campaign!
    All quarters need to be spoken to and all this talk of terrorism should include Israel, they are not clean in all this conflict and our constant
    backing of them is really unfair.

    January 11, 2009 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  5. MorningStar

    Mr. President,

    The Middle East is a bottomless pitt...be careful, it has eaten up the dreams, hopes, and ambitions of so many before you...Yes they were bright, strong, and willing...but the end game is the same. Those people hate each other for 1000s of years and it will be so until the end of times...

    January 11, 2009 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  6. WIlly Brown

    How many teams will you have for all those "day one" projects. Good lip service Obama.

    January 11, 2009 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    Dear Mr.President-Elect Obama, You are really 'The One' that this country needs right now. Right from the day you started your campaign for the presidency, you have stood by your words, always up to the point. I have never seen anyone multitasking with ease, but you do so with ever smiling, charming and confident way. I am sure, with this kind of leadership, American people will be united and work hard to restore the confidence in America. Thank you for your dedication and hard work. May god bless you and god bless the United states of America.

    January 11, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  8. Ummah

    To all my brothers and sisters in Islam; it is time we take a look in the mirror and start to recognize why the state of our people throughout the world is in such deplorable conditions. From Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, we have been ruled by monarchs and dictators who are nothing more than crooks and thieves. They are the reason a once vibrant Ummah is now in such despair. Groups like Hamas, Al Qaida, Hezbollah, and Jemaah Islamiyah are gangs of ignorance who seek nothing but power and bring all of us Muslims shame and in the case of Gaza, death. Enough is enough, we must clean our own house and it must begin now before we reach a point where Islam is at war with the rest of the world. Ask yourself if our beloved Prophet PBUH would condone the actions that have taken place in the name of Islam over the past decade. Would he accept the killing of women and children, would he accept a population which is uneducated and put up with Kings who lavish while their people suffer.
    Don’t leave the dirty work we face up to outsiders, lets commit to riding our Ummah of hate, ignorance, and intolerance. Lets help ourselves by cleaning our house. To the people of Palestine, Pakistan, and Iraq, don’t let ignorant and hateful represent your interest. It is time to fight back and its time to fight back now. We don’t need to let the western military and intelligence services do what we can do ourselves.

    January 11, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  9. Juat Dump Israel

    If the US wants to relieve pressure on itself becasue of the Mideast, just dump Israel and stop supporting the rogue nuclear power that arrogantly continues to expand settlements in the West Bank. Israel has no sense of proportional response, and they seem to think that 1 Israely life is equal to 400 dead Palestinian women and children. This formula, if allowed to persist, will start World War III. And now we learn that Israel wants to preemptively bomb Iran and wants our support. No thank you. Israel is the matchstick to a keg of dynamite - better for the US to back away and stop supporting this country.

    January 11, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  10. Patriot

    The Arabian Peninsula is the natural home of the Semites (arabs, jews, etc); so there is not reason they shouldn't be MADE to find 'common ground'.

    Apart from the millennia-old propensity of the Semitic BROTHERS to rain endless cycles of violence, vengeance and barbarism on each other, the greatest contributor to Middle East mayhem is the meddling of outsiders!

    For around three thousand years, the Semites have been at each others throat; and outsiders are only succeed in pouring fuel on the age-old Middle East conflagration.

    Semites need to be made to recall their origins; since they are ALL indigenous to the region.
    The world should stop playing the Semitic game; because it will only consume all those who are into violence, vengeance and barbarism.

    January 11, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  11. Jeff From Jersey

    EVERYTHING is one of Obama's biggest challenges!Cheney and Bush have pretty much let evrything go down the tubes anywhere you look:the economy,the mortgage crisis,the auto industry,healthcare,Bin L;aden,Iran,Iraq,Afghantistan,Russia,Gaza.....you name it,they've screwed it up or completely neglected or ignred it.The victims of hurricane Katrina STILL haven't been taken care of to any great degree.
    It's going to take PE a long time to rebuild what George"the IDIOT" Bush destroyed and it took 8 long years for that fool to do that much damage.
    No he didn't start the war in Gaza but he sure turned his back on it which is criminal neglect no matter how you look at it.

    January 11, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  12. Hope

    All wars are bad and deserve equal attention, Dafur does not get the attention it deserves for example, first the Palestines and Isralites must who are almost brothers and sisters must realise that they need peace.

    January 11, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  13. S Callahan

    Well, we know from scripture that there will be at least a seven or so year peace agreement made.....so perhaps that is part of your calling PE Obama.....but we also know from scripture it's most likely that peace won't last because there are others in the world whose only intent is to thrive in conflict.
    I wish Israel the peace they deserve....it's been a long few thousand years...

    January 11, 2009 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  14. arc, Lugano CH

    Why has Israel banned independent media from offering a non-biased (or non-American biased) report of the events in Gaza? Yet Conservative American media outlets are free to report on the Israeli point of view of the current conflict – Joe the Plumber? Why is this?

    January 11, 2009 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  15. Mike in NYC

    Two things to watch here: the pro-Israel lobby's near-total stranglehold on US Mid East policy (duh), and the dilemma faced by anti-war activists that supported BO last year.

    January 11, 2009 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  16. arc, Lugano CH

    Why has Israel banned independent media from offering a non-biased (or non-American) report of the events in Gaza? Yet Conservative American media outlets are free to report on the Israeli point of view of the current conflict – Joe the Plumber?

    January 11, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |

    Perhaps Clinton can get them as close to an agreement as he did in 2000.

    January 11, 2009 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  18. No Hillary = No Obama

    Obama's grandiosity will be his undoing. If he thinks he can grandstand the way he did during the primaries, he's wrong. He now offers 4.1 million new jobs? Yea, right. He can now break the Middle East deadlock, yea right. This guy better shake off his narcississtic core or events will do it for him.

    January 11, 2009 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  19. Home of the Free

    Thank You Mr. President, God knows the little Idiot in the White House now couldn't.

    January 11, 2009 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  20. Perusing-Through

    Dear PE-Obama,

    We do appreciate all the things you are planning to do. The voting majority of us are on your bandwagon for HOPE & CHANGE. And we do want "peace on earth" including the mid-east.

    But is it just possible your level of confidence to help bring peace between those who have sworn to annihilate each other, may be a bit over reaching. Again, peace in the mid-east would be the greatest accomplishment and most appreciated human endeavors. And no one is trying to discourage you. Just suggesting you check your expectations at the door, but we pray for your wisdom and triumphant victory in this "near impossible challenge".

    January 11, 2009 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  21. honestly

    How will this sit with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel? He is totally pro-Isreal, and I wonder what fair compromise can be reached while one so close to the new President is literally blind to the suffering that Isreal inflicts on others.
    I hope that President Obama can overcome this hurdle and at least bring about a truce between the warring factions very soon, as well as get troop withdrawals started in Iraq as promised.

    We will watch and see.

    January 11, 2009 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  22. David

    When will anyone get it? There will never be peace in the Middle East as long as Israel exists. Hamas does not want the current boarders. They want the destruction of Israel because they believe Israel is occupying Palestinian land. This is not just the belief of Hamas either. Iran and Lebanon both have expressed these sentiments. All we will ever get are short term brokered cease fires.

    We need a strategy to eliminate the terrorist organizations behind these countries who use the destruction of Israel for their benefit to recruit more terrorists. We need to stop the influx of illegal weapons being sent to Hamas. These radical governments need to be shut down. Obama should try to make it financially impossible for them to survive.

    January 11, 2009 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  23. Compromise

    Hamas is willing to recognize Israel's right to die.

    January 11, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  24. ken

    Two presidents? Obama just doesn't want to make any tough decisions that might upset someone. He openly bashes Bush on the economy. I guess it's only areas that Obama is weak in that we can only have 1 President. Grow a pair Mr. President-Elect.

    January 11, 2009 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  25. German,Irish American

    Watched the entire interview, scary, the man talks a lot, but is absolutely clueless on the enormity of the office of the President. Referring to foreign leaders and terrorists as "actors" in international policy, shows what a fantasyland our new PE lives in. I really hope whoever is the master for this guy, the one who makes his decisions, has the best interest of the US in mind.

    January 11, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
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