Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Obama said in first TV interview U.S. should 'be willing to talk to Iran'

The statement

In his first TV interview as president, Obama said we "should talk to Iran."

Mitt Romney, in his speech at the RNC Thursday

The ruling

The only good thing Mitt Romney had to say about President Barack Obama's foreign policy record was he "gave the order, and Seal Team Six took out Osama bin Laden."

From that point in Romney's speech, he quickly pivoted to zinging Obama for his policies on Israel, Cuba, Russia, Poland and, possibly worst of all, Iran.

"On another front, every American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran's nuclear threat," Romney said. "In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran. We're still talking, and Iran's centrifuges are still spinning."

Here, we're fact-checking whether Obama said we should "talk to Iran" in his first TV interview.

Obama's first interview as president was on Jan. 27, 2009, with Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief for Al Arabiya. The Dubai-based network is considered less radical than Al Jazeera.

Obama, who pledged a much different approach with the Middle East than his predecessor, was coming off selecting former Maine Sen. George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East. He made calls on his first day in the Oval Office to Arab and Israeli leaders, we've noted in a previous fact-check.

"My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy," the network quoted Obama.

The question about Iran's nuclear status was the last one in the interview. Obama stressed diplomacy while noting Iran's threats against Israel and its pursuit of a nuclear weapon that "could potentially set off an arms race in the region."

Here is the full exchange, pulled from Al Arabiya's 2009 tramscript of the interview:

Melhem: "Will the United States ever live with a nuclear Iran? And if not, how far are you going in the direction of preventing it?"

Obama: "You know, I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of U.S. power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.

"Now, the Iranian people are a great people, and Persian civilization is a great civilization. Iran has acted in ways that's not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past — none of these things have been helpful.

"But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress. And we will over the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach. And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us."

We're not evaluating in this fact-check whether Obama's policies on Iran have worked to slow Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

But Obama said in his first presidential interview that the United States should "be willing to talk to Iran."

We rate the claim True.

Katie Sanders, Times staff writer. This item has been edited for print.

Obama said in first TV interview U.S. should 'be willing to talk to Iran' 08/31/12 [Last modified: Friday, August 31, 2012 10:07pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Bruno Mars' charisma glitters like gold at Tampa's Amalie Arena


    Nothing in this world should be as easy as Bruno Mars makes it look. Not singing, not dancing, and certainly not playfully seducing more than 17,500 starry-eyed Tampa fans with one of pop music’s best bands at your back.

    Bruno Mars performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Oct. 19, 2017.
  2. Mikhail Sergachev scores twice as Lightning shuts out Blue Jackets (w/ video)

    Lightning Strikes

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mikhail Sergachev said he blacked out for a few seconds after his first NHL goal Thursday night, a rocket slap shot from the point.

    Mikhail Sergachev, front, looks like he’s very in the moment with teammate Dan Girardi after scoring his first NHL goal, though he says he blacked out for a bit. He scores again in the second.
  3. Dodgers rout Cubs 11-1 to win pennant, head to World Series for first time since '88


    CHICAGO — Enrique Hernandez put a Hollywood ending on an LA story three decades in the making.

    The Dodgers celebrate their Game 5 victory Thursday night over the Cubs at Wrigley Field, putting Los Angeles in the World Series for the first time since 1988.
  4. Another suspicious death in Tampa's Seminole Heights


    TAMPA — Police were investigating what they were calling a suspicious death in southeast Seminole Heights Thursday night, near the location of two fatal shootings last week.

    Interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan addresses reporters about the latest suspicious death in southeast Seminole Heights Thursday night. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL | Times]
  5. Duke tops preseason coaches' basketball poll; Gators No. 7


    Duke has been tabbed basketball's preseason No. 1 for the second straight season in the coaches' poll, released Thursday.

    Florida point guard Chris Chiozza launches the shot of last season’s NCAA Tournament, a winning 3
against Wisconsin that put the Gators into the Elite Eight. Chiozza returns to lead a UF team that’s getting its share of preseason attention, including a No. 7 ranking in the coaches’ poll.