Transcript: Obama and Clinton Debate

Should it be U.S. policy now to treat on Iranian attack on Israel as if it were an attack against the United States?

OBAMA: Well, our first step should be to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of the Iranians. And that has to be one of our top priorities, and I will make it one of our top priorities when I'm president of the United States.

I have said I will do whatever is required to prevent the Iranians from obtaining nuclear weapons.

I believe that that includes direct talks with the Iranians, where we are laying out very clearly for them: Here are the issues that we find unacceptable, not only development of nuclear weapons, but also funding terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as their anti-Israel rhetoric and threats toward Israel.

I believe that we can offer them carrots and sticks, but we've got to directly engage and make absolutely clear to them what our posture is. Now, my belief is that they should also know that I will take no options off the table when it comes to preventing them from using nuclear weapons or obtaining nuclear weapons.

And that would include any threats directed at Israel, or any of our allies.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you would extend our deterrent to Israel?

OBAMA: As I said before, I think it is very important that Iran understands that an attack on Israel, is an attack on our strongest ally in the region, one that we -- one whose security, we consider paramount. And that would be an act of aggression that we would -- that I would consider an attack that is unacceptable. And the United States would take appropriate action.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Clinton, would you?

CLINTON: Well, in fact, George, I think that we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than just Israel. Of course, I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States.

But I would do the same with other countries in the region. We are at a very dangerous point with Iran. The Bush policy has failed. Iran has not been deterred. They continue to try to not only obtain the fissile material for nuclear weapons, but they are intent upon using their efforts to intimidate the region and to have their way when it comes to the support of terrorism in Lebanon and elsewhere.

And I think that this is an opportunity, with skillful diplomacy, for the United States, to go to the region and enlist the region in a security agreement vis-a-vis Iran.

It would give us three tools we now don't have. Number one, we've got to begin diplomatic engagement with Iran. And we want the region and the world to understand how serious we are about it. I would begin those discussions at a low level. I certainly would not meet with Ahmadinejad because even again today he made light of 9/11, and said that he's not even sure it happened and that people actually died.

He's not someone who would have an opportunity to meet with me in the White House. But I would have a diplomatic process that would engage him.

And secondly, we've got to deter other countries from feeling they have to acquire nuclear weapons. You can't go to the Saudis or the Kuwaitis or UAE and others who have a legitimate concern about Iran and say, well, don't acquire these weapons to defend yourself unless you're also willing to say we will provide a deterrent backup.

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