Transcript: George Stephanopoulos Interviews President Obama

Obama: Nuclear Treaty Absolutely Vital

"Good Morning America" anchor George Stephanopoulos interviewed President Barack Obama in Prague, Czech Republic, just after Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the new START treaty.

The following is a transcript of the exclusive interview, which took place on Thursday, April 8, 2010.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. President, thanks very much for doing this.

OBAMA: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, some tough but successful negotiations with the Russians, now comes the Senate. You sounded pretty confident about ratification, but you know there is this concern about missile defense, and a lot of Republicans believe that even these unilateral Russian statements linking missile defense in the treaty could imperil it.

OBAMA: Well, first thing I think it's important to remember is that this is a process that wasn't just run out of the White House. The Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs looked at this every step of the way, our secretary of defense looked at this every step of the way, and the intelligence community looked at it every step of the way. And we were firm, and are now absolutely confident that this in no way impedes our ability to move forward on the missile defense program that's designed not to target Russia, but in fact, is designed to deal with --

STEPHANOPOULOS: The Russians are saying they're going to pull out if you proceed.

OBAMA: Well, no, that's not what they've said. What -- what they've said is that -- as we've adapted in Europe a phased approach to missile defense, hopefully, we're going to be able to create a situation where we cooperate with them. But it is going to be contingent and developing, based on our threat assessments. If for example, we are able to create a situation where Iran is no longer posing us a threat in terms of intercontinental ballistic missiles, then it may be that our missile defense configuration is able to be scaled back in a way that doesn't threaten Russia.

So, all these pieces fit together. We're looking at a timetable over a five, 10, 15, 20 year time horizon. This treaty itself absolutely accomplishes our initial goal, which was to replace the previous START treaty. To reduce the number of deployed warheads, the number of vehicles, launchers, that are used. But it's only a start. And we're going to have to continually build and evolve a whole approach that is designed for the 21st century as opposed to the 20th century.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you have no doubt you're going to get the eight Republicans you need to ratify this treaty?

OBAMA: Well, you know, the -- listen, I've now been in Washington for long enough that, for me to say I have no doubt (LAUGHS) about how the Senate operates would be foolish. I feel confident that leaders like Dick Lugar -- who actually was somebody I worked very closely with when I was in the Senate on issues of bomb control -- when they have had the opportunity to fully evaluate this treaty, [they] will come to the conclusion that this is in the best interest of the United States. But I will also say to those in the Senate who have questions, is that this is absolutely vital for us to deal with the broader issues of nuclear proliferation, that are probably the number one threat that we face in the future.

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