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

Obama: 'Much more determined' to break Mideast deadlock

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/01/09/obama.oath/art.obama.grab.cnn.jpg caption="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. Joyce Becker

    He will act promptly once he is president.

    January 11, 2009 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  2. SA in OO

    For all of the attempts to negotiate some sort of settlement over the years the problem is actually quite simple.

    Hamas doesn't acknowledge Israel's right to exist.
    Israel is still building settlements on other peoples land.

    It's the solution that is insolvable
    It is futile to even attempt to intervene if neither side is willing to give on these two underlyiing agendas. They will continue this on-and-off again war for decades to come, each shouting their selfrichous claims of agression against the other, while the people pay the ultimate price.

    January 11, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  3. We're Screwed

    No other US President has been able to bring peace to the Middle East but Obama can because he has experience as a community organizer. YES HE CAN!!

    January 11, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  4. Meka


    January 11, 2009 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  5. A Woman In California For Obama

    More intelligent answers. I hope this all gets resolved soon for ALL of our benefit.

    January 11, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  6. David in West Virginia

    Thank God, we had an incoming President who sees the merits of PEACE! Remember, Bush turned a blind eye to Clinton's Peace Initiative and see where we are at today. The whole World is at War! So much for the Unifier! He was a JOKE!

    If the U.S. can live in Peace with our multi-cultural society, so can people in the Middle East! God is the God of all and We need to recognize that one fact! Once the world recognizes that face, the peacewill be easy to achieve.

    January 11, 2009 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  7. Joe Fattal

    I believe the problem in Gaza is under president Bush watch. He should do something about it. By the time Mr. Obama takes office they probably won't have nothing left to work with. That delay hurt the Palestinians more than the Israelis. And this upcoming administration falls right into Israel's hand, and look who is the chief of staff, a dual national. An American, and an a Israeli. It that's going to do any good, or help the Palestinians in any shape?. Hell no.

    January 11, 2009 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  8. howie

    The Hamas just doesn't get it. Think we would allow Mexico to lob rockets into San Diego. It is time to make the Hamas understand that firing rockets will not be tolerated. I think Israel has been most patient until now. Here is one who is wishing success for Israel. I have recently worked in the middle east and I understand the hate for Isreal as well as the U.S.

    January 11, 2009 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  9. Help Gaza's Children

    One man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. Why not address the Palestinians' legitimate grievances for a permanent solution to the rocket attacks? The rockets, like the grievances, were there even before Hamas.

    January 11, 2009 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  10. Ula Nejad

    this guy is an idiot. what makes him think that they would take him seriously. they see him as unworthy of their trust, they say he is welcomed as a visitor and not president of the most powerful country, and probably spit on him for eating half smoked pork sausages at Ben's Chillis cafe.

    January 11, 2009 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  11. Tek

    I am 100% behind our next president, and will support him in any way I can. But honestly, how does he think he can help there? Until there is only one left standing in the Palestinian – Israeli conflict, there will be a conflict. As long as one side uses religion against the other, or people continue to believe that a magic being in the sky cares who owns that land, this will never end. People invoking a god to declare Israel the rightful heir scares me. Other people invoking a god and indoctrinating generations of hate and terrorism scares me even more.

    I fully believe that President Obama will do everything he can, but please America do not judge his presidency on what happens in Israel / Palestine. I hope he doesn't judge himself too harshly over it either.

    January 11, 2009 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  12. Amber

    Can we please stop the "killing in the name of..." crap and see this for what it really is: WATER RIGHTS!!!

    Develop desalinization technology even further and you WILL have peace in the middle east. But science will never be listened to so long as we have a bunch of half-baked mystics running around in the sand with guns.

    January 12, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
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