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Continued: Transcript of Obama news conference

  • Article by: , Associated Press
  • Last update: February 9, 2009 - 8:48 PM

What I've also said is that we should take an approach with Iran that employs all of the resources at the United States' disposal, and that includes diplomacy.

And so my national security team is currently reviewing our existing Iran policy, looking at areas where we can have constructive dialogue, where we can directly engage with them.

And my expectation is, in the coming months, we will be looking for openings that can be created where we can start sitting across the table, face-to-face diplomatic overtures, that will allow us to move our policy in a new direction.

There's been a lot of mistrust built up over the years, so it's not going to happen overnight. And it's important that, even as we engage in this direct diplomacy, we are very clear about certain deep concerns that we have as a country, that Iran understands that we find the funding of terrorist organizations unacceptable, that we're clear about the fact that a nuclear Iran could set off a nuclear arms race in the region that would be profoundly destabilizing.

So there are going to be a set of objectives that we have in these conversations, but I think that there's the possibility at least of a relationship of mutual respect and progress.

And I think that, if you look at how we've approached the Middle East, my designation of George Mitchell as a special envoy to help deal with the Arab-Israeli situation, some of the interviews that I've given, it indicates the degree to which we want to do things differently in the region.

Now it's time for Iran to send some signals that it wants to act differently, as well, and recognize that, even as it has some rights as a member of the international community, with those rights come responsibilities.

OK. Chip Reid?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You have often said that bipartisanship is extraordinarily important, overall and in this stimulus package, but now, when we ask your advisers about the lack of bipartisanship so far — zero votes in the House, three in the Senate — they say, Well, it's not the number of votes that matters; it's the number of jobs that will be created.

Is that a sign that you are moving away — your White House is moving away from this emphasis on bipartisanship? And what went wrong? Did you underestimate how hard it would be to change the way Washington works?

OBAMA: Well, I don't think — I don't think I underestimated it. I don't think the — the American people underestimated it. They understand that there have been a lot of bad habits built up here in Washington, and it's going to take time to break down some of those bad habits.

You know, when I made a series of overtures to the Republicans, going over to meet with both Republican caucuses, you know, putting three Republicans in my cabinet — something that is unprecedented — making sure that they were invited here to the White House to talk about the economic recovery plan, all those were not designed simply to get some short-term votes. They were designed to try to build up some trust over time.

And I think that, as I continue to make these overtures, over time, hopefully that will be reciprocated.

But understand the bottom line that I've got right now, which is what's happening to the people of Elkhart and what's happening across the country. I can't afford to see Congress play the usual political games. What we have to do right now is deliver for the American people.

So my bottom line when it comes to the recovery package is: Send me a bill that creates or saves 4 million jobs. Because everybody has to be possessed with a sense of urgency about putting people back to work, making sure that folks are staying in their homes, that they can send their kids to college.

That doesn't negate the continuing efforts that I'm going to make to listen and engage with my Republican colleagues. And hopefully the tone that I've taken, which has been consistently civil and respectful, will pay some dividends over the long term. There are going to be areas where we disagree, and there are going to be areas where we agree.

As I said, the one concern I've got on the stimulus package, in terms of the debate and listening to some of what's been said in Congress, is that there seems to be a set of folks who — I don't doubt their sincerity — who just believe that we should do nothing.

Now, if that's their opening position or their closing position in negotiations, then we're probably not going to make much progress, because I don't think that's economically sound and I don't think what — that's what the American people expect, is for us to stand by and do nothing.

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