President Barack Obama opened up about his so-called "Obama doctrine," the overarching principle that guides his foreign policy in places like the Middle East where his administration recently negotiated a framework of a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, and Cuba where the U.S. recently loosened long-standing travel restrictions.
“We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing ... people don’t seem to understand,” Obama said in an interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman published Sunday.
“You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies," he said.
The president added, "The same is true with respect to Iran, a larger country, a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. ... You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.”
With respect to steps Congress may take in curtailing or possibly unraveling the deal with Iran — which could take place under a bill proposed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) — Obama said he hopes "we can find something that allows Congress to express itself but does not encroach on traditional presidential prerogatives — and ensures that, if in fact we get a good deal, that we can go ahead and implement it.”
Asked by Friedman whether the deal with Iran would allow international nuclear inspectors access "anywhere" in the country, Obama responded, "That we suspect."
“Obviously, a request will have to be made. Iran could object, but what we have done is to try to design a mechanism whereby once those objections are heard, that it is not a final veto that Iran has, but in fact some sort of international mechanism will be in place that makes a fair assessment as to whether there should be an inspection, and if they determine it should be, that’s the tiebreaker, not Iran saying, ‘No, you can’t come here,'" he added.
Obama also took issue with critics who alleged that he and his administration did not fully support Israel, stating that it "has been personally difficult for me to hear ... expressions that somehow ... this administration has not done everything it could to look out for Israel’s interest."
Obama reaffirmed America's commitment to defending Israel if it were to be attacked by states like Iran. "If Israel were to be attacked by any state ... we would stand by them. And that, I think, should be ... sufficient to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see whether or not we can at least take the nuclear issue off the table.”
Read the entire Times interview with the president here.