STEPHANOPOULOS: (inaudible) to speak on the issue of Iran, the president meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tomorrow. You have been quite critical of the president's approach. He gave an interview to Jeffrey Goldberg of "The Atlantic" -- Mr. Goldberg will be on the show later on the program --where he laid out his most clear statement on Iran yet, I believe. He said, the president -- "I think that the Israeli government recognizes that as president of the United States, I don't bluff. Both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say." The president seemed to put some teeth behind this idea that all options are on the table to prevent a nuclear weapon -- Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
GINGRICH: I think that's a good step in the right direction. But remember, he just had his intelligence agencies report once again as they did back in 2007, when they were totally wrong, that the Iranians are nowhere near getting a nuclear weapon.
The question for the president is, if the Israeli prime minister decides that he cannot afford to take the risk of waiting to see whether or not the intelligence agencies are right, and he decides that for the survival of Israel, he has to do something to take out the weapons systems, will the president in fact support him or will the president try to stop him? I think that's the core question. Because I think the Israelis are likely to move much, much earlier than an American president would.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Mr. Speaker, thanks for taking the time to join us this morning. STEPHANOPOULOS: And let's move now to the president's top reelection strategist, David Axelrod. Great to have you back with us again. And David, you just heard the speaker there, right there. What's the answer to that question, what if Bibi Netanyahu comes to the president and says, I can't wait?
AXELROD: Well, George, let's first stipulate that there's no difference between the United States and Israel on the issue of whether Iran should get a nuclear weapon. And the president made that very clear again in the interview that you cited, and he has backed that up by bringing the entire world together over the last few years with the most withering economic sanctions that have ever been administered against any country. So there's no difference between -- in the objective here. They're going to sit down and they are going to talk through the tactics involved, but no one should doubt the president's resolve. Not just because of the security of Israel, but because of the security of the United States of America. It is important that Iran not get a nuclear weapon.
STEPHANOPOULOS: A lot of Republicans think this could be a winning political issue for them. I was struck by an article written this week in ForeignPolicy.com by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, both strategists for former President George W. Bush, where they say that the president is strikingly vulnerable on foreign policy. They go on to say -- "His approach to Israel must be presented as similarly weak and untrustworthy. The Republican candidate must make clear the existential threat to Israel from a nuclear-armed Iran, not only because it would lead to a better policy but also because it will reduce the president's support among this key voting bloc in the critical battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania." Your response?
AXELROD: Well, all I can tell you is that Shimon Peres, the president of Israel, was interviewed a couple of nights ago, and said there has never been closer security cooperation. Ehud Barak, the defense minister of Israel, has said the same. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that the security assistance that we have given to Israel is unprecedented.
I think they're better sources on this than Mr. Rove. And I think as to the American people's attitude towards the president as a commander in chief and on national security issues, I think the polls reflect the reality, which is that he's been a very strong leader in this regard. And if you don't believe that, ask the remnants of al Qaeda who are on the run. You know, I think it's an absurd notion, but if that's how they want to spend their time, I welcome them to it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You just heard Newt Gingrich there. He said the president was wrong to apologize for the burning of those Korans.
AXELROD: Well, I think you made the important point, the commanders on the ground had a different idea. You know, the thing about not having any responsibilities is that you can say irresponsible things. And the speaker avails himself of that opportunity all the time.
But the reality is, that the president has in his hands the fate of all those service people over there, and that's foremost in his mind. And the commanders on the ground felt that a high-level apology was warranted and necessarily for the security of those troops, and the president acted on their recommendation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about gas prices? There are some forecasts that it could go as high as $5 a gallon by this summer. You heard the speaker there, he talked about he wants Secretary Steven Chu to be fired. In the past, Secretary Chu has said that America should have European-level gas prices. And the speaker referenced this testimony of Chu this week where he was asked whether or not the goal of U.S. policy was lower gas prices. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ALAN NUNNELEE, R-MISS.: But is the overall goal to get our price --
STEVEN CHU, SECRETARY OF ENERGY: No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy, and to decrease our dependency on oil.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is the secretary right, are lower gas prices not the president's goal?
AXELROD: Well, first of all, I think your questioner earlier to Speaker Gingrich raised an important point. Oil is traded on a global market. So our dependence on oil makes it very difficult to control our energy costs. And that's why, yes, we need to drill for more oil. Yes, we need to drill for more natural gas. We're at an eight-year high in terms of domestic oil production; we're at an unprecedented levels in terms of natural gas. We're doubling renewable energy. And perhaps most important, the president for the first time in 30 years implemented fuel-efficiency standards that when fully implemented will save 2.2 million barrels of oil a day. That's how we're going to control this problem, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But how about the question --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are lower gas prices the goal of the president?
AXELROD: Well, look, we always want lower gas prices, because that's good for our economy. The question is whether it's realistic to say, as the speaker did, that there's some magic fairy dust that you can sprinkle and get $2.50 gas? The American people know that's not the case. We have been dealing with this for some time. Six months before the president took office, gas was at $4.10. The reason that it was lower when he took office was because we had a worldwide recession. That's not a strategy for lower gas prices that we want to follow.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, this controversy that Rush Limbaugh sparked. This week, you heard the speaker -- earlier, Speaker Boehner thought that Rush Limbaugh's words were inappropriate, but he also thought it was inappropriate for the president to jump in the way he did and for Democrats to fund-raise off this issue. Your response.
AXELROD: I think what Rush Limbaugh said about that young woman was not only vile and degrading to her, but to women across the country. And I think the president did the right thing by calling her.
This, the other thing about the Limbaugh story that I think is important is that it was predicated on a lie, and the lie was that somehow she was asking that taxpayers pay for contraception. The policy is that in basic insurance policies, contraception -- contraceptive services, birth control, should be included. And almost all women in America at some point in their lives use that service. So, that needs to be cleared up, too. Even in his sort of quasi-apology last night, Mr. Limbaugh continued that falsehood, and it needs to be challenged.
STEPHANOPOULOS: David Axelrod, thanks very much.
AXELROD: All right, good to be with you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Up next -- our powerhouse roundtable. The super Tuesday showdown, can anyone stop Mitt Romney?
Senate surprise. What does Olympia Snowe's retirement say about the state of our politics and control of the Senate?
And the drumbeats of war, is it coming with Iran?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Lots of roundtable coming up after this from our ABC stations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY FALLON, LATE NIGHT HOST: Mitt Romney came in first place in the Michigan primary, although he barely won. Incidentally barely won is also the total number of votes Ron Paul received.
JAY LENO, TONIGHT SHOW HOST: Not a good day for Rick Santorum. I haven't seen him this depressed since they've invented the birth control pill.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you feel about the Michigan win?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we feel great. Michigan was just another case of voters taking a look at Mitt Romney and saying, yeah, I guess.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Comics still having fun, but can anyone stop Mitt Romney? Let's talk about that and more in our roundtable.
I'm joined as always by George Will, Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal, former DNC Chair, presidential candidate Governor Howard Dean, Matthew Dowd of ABC and Donna Brazile. Thanks for joining us again.
And George, let's start out with that question, five wins in a row now for Mitt Romney, the table is set pretty well for him on Tuesday. Is this it?
GEORGE WILL, COLUMNIST: It's not it yet, but it's getting there. When we count his delegates, we're forgetting that the Republicans have something akin to the superdelegates, there are 117 delegates from the Republican national committee and the lion's share of those will clearly go to Romney.
The question is not will he win, but how damaged will he be when he gets the win. I suggest our viewers watch two things on Tuesday night, first watch Virginia, because there's no choice there except Ron Paul and Romney. So Ron Paul will be the vessel for all of the anti-Romney voters. And we'll see just how many those are.
The worst thing that could happen would be for Santorum to win Ohio. And Gingrich to lose Georgia and drop out. And then it one-on-one of all the social conservatives would go to Santorum. And you'd have a protracted slog.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Ohio is what's key for Santorum. It's basically must-win for Rick Santorum.
MATTHEW DOWD, ABC NEWS: Yeah, but If Rick Santorum doesn't win Ohio, this race for Rick Santorum is over. But if you have a combination, interesting thing is if you have a combination of a Rick Santorum loss in Ohio and a Newt Gingrich win in Georgia, then the argument is going to be made the new non-Mitt candidate in this race, again, is Newt Gingrich. And he goes on, as your interview showed, he goes on. He wins. He's not -- it doesn't look like he's any getting prepared to go out. He thinks he can win some southern states.
And so I think the question becomes who is the non-Mitt Romney candidate, though Mitt Romney is becoming more and more inevitable in this race. Who is it? Is it Rick Santorum because he wins Ohio? Or is it Newt Gingrich because he wins Georgia? And that's, I think, the question.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And the reason this goes on for so long, Howard Dean, is because basically the Republicans tried to copy the Democratic calendar from last time around?
HOWARD DEAN, FRM. DNC CHAIRMAN: They did. The biggest problem for the Republicans is not the calendar, the biggest problem is having 20 debates. These guys look like they're crazy. I have never seen a race -- this last time they were last disciplined than the Democrats and less on message was in 1964.
I actually think that the birth control stuff has probably has sunk the Republicans when you add it to the Latinos, the anti-gay, the anti-Muslim. I mean, there's just so many groups you can offend and women is a pretty big one.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to get that in a moment, but Peggy first, you know Howard brought up the debates. President Obama jokes at a New York fundraiser this week that he might consider just putting up -- paying to put up the Republican debates again.
And you wrote something interesting in the Wall Street Journal this week. You wrote that candidates, the Republican candidates are starting to make you nervous, why?
PEGGY NOONAN, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Oh, I think -- the debates have been one thing I think all of the Super PAC money and the attacks that have been there have been another thing and have had a tough affect. There's also the fact that inevitably, I guess, institutionally, the candidates get knocked off their messages and start entering areas of interesting conversations that have nothing to do with a presidential run.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ...contraception there.
NOONAN: Well, that's another thing and I hope we get to it.
But, there was, you know, a lot of the Rick Santorum stuff which helped him break through also made him break through in a way that was unfortunate, you know the JFK speech and how he reacted to that. So, you can look at this in one way, oh, they're making me nervous. In another way, I think you've got to mellow out and realize this is a process. There have been some mistakes built in. One is proportionality, whoever dreams that up a year ago, made a mistake.
We'll see how it goes. We're in a long slog. I don't think this will be over until June.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that's probably right. Donna, if you look at that issue of proportionality and the way this is all set up, Mitt Romney could be a situation very analogous to what Barack Obama had four years ago. He's got a small but kind of impregnable delegate lead that the others just can't chip away at.
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, four years ago 80 percent of the Republican delegates were selected by now. Mitt Romney was not a factor. He dropped out of the race. 70 percent of the Democratic delegates this year, with proportional representation. Of course, the Republicans are trying to fashion their contest like the Democrats, but I don't think they're going to have the same results as the Democrats.
Over the last three weeks, what we have seen is a huge enthusiasm gap -- less Republicans showing up to vote. And so while Mitt Romney will emerge probably as the delegate lead, as well as when several more states, the problem is, is that every time he wins the Republican Party continues to lose. They lose enthusiasm, they lose an opportunity to have a standard bearer who can really challenge President Obama this fall.
DOWD: In the end I don't think race -- the problem with this race for the Republicans has been about the debates, or has been about the rule changes, it's been about Mitt Romney. The fundamental problem is in this race, is he has not seen as somebody that can unify the party, especially the various conservative elements of the party: the social conservatives, the fiscal conservatives, and the security conservatives.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But on the other hand, all of the candidates are strong enough to weaken him, but they're not strong enough to win?
DOWD: Yeah, because they have all inherit flaws in them. They all have -- flaws -- they can't perform when they're in front of a debate, or they don't know what to do when they're on the campaign trail. Mitt Romney will likely win this nomination, but not have a unified party, have an unenthusiastic base of supporters and be more damaged than any potential nominee that's risen through the primary in the last 25 years.
STEPHANOPOULOS: George, you're nodding your head. And you wrote in this morning's Washington Post that this could be the product of either Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum win, they are a nominee that can't win in November.
WILL: That's right. I don't think Republicans have looked at the November arithmetic. First, if Obama carries John Kerry states, who was not a potent candidate, if he holds the Kerry states, that's 245 electoral votes. He needs to go out and find 25 electoral votes.
Obama won by 95 electoral votes. That means he can lose New Hampshire, Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, and he comes out with 270 electoral votes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, George, you look at that map, and you counsel in your column, that perhaps conservatives should start to think about focusing on Congress, at the expense, some thought, of the White House. At least that's the way it was read. Bill Kristol -- you really created a controversy. Bill Kristol wrote in The Weekly Standard: "Rarely has an intelligent man been so wrong."
WILL: Well, could be.
WILL: But the fact is there is an economy of politics. There's only so much time, so much enthusiasm, and so much energy. And I think there may come a point when people look at the math and look at the defects of the Republican nominee, whoever it is, and say, we have a better chance of maximizing the real objective, which is to stop Obama, by getting all the gavels in Congress, all the committee chairmanships in Republican hands.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Peggy, how does Mitt Romney keep the race from getting to that point?
NOONAN: I don't know. You know, I think Republicans really do have to focus on the Senate and the House, but not at the exclusion of the presidency. I think you can argue, if you look at the past 15 years or so, that a lot of legislating, a lot of big things are coming out of the Hill.
Mr. Obama's great domestic achievements, if you will, "Obama-care," the stimulus, et cetera, they were created by Congress. I think if the Republicans take the House -- keep the House and take the Senate next time, there will be things like the Ryan plan, entitlement reform, reform of taxes, that can and will go forward. You will need a Republican president to sign those...
STEPHANOPOULOS: There's no question about that.
NOONAN: You know, it's important, it's not just things like the Supreme Court. The presidency has importance. We are all voting. It is early in that process. Write nothing off. Anything can happen. The president is vulnerable. He is out there raising money.
NOONAN: ... heck of a lot of stuff during the early years of the Obama administration...
DEAN: I think they lose the House. I think the Republicans lose the House. And I agree with George, the only chance they have is to focus on the House and give up on Romney. Romney is going to win -- I mean, Obama is going to win in Virginia with a huge African-American turnout and a huge Northern Virginia turnout.
I think he's now going to win in Pennsylvania because I think the Republican women in the suburbs of Philadelphia are always the swing voter, are not going to vote for a party that really is going to -- it really -- there is a war on women, this last two weeks of controversy.
So I think it's a huge problem. I think the Republicans have hard time holding the House with this substantial...
DOWD: I think the problem when you isolate the two parts of the ballot is that the turnout is going to be mainly driven by the Republican presidential candidate. It's not going to be driven by the Republican congressional candidates. And that's the problem in this race.
But I'll also make an argument, just keep in mind one thing, the president of the United States has had an unbelievable series of successes and good news in the last six months. He has had foreign policy successes. He killed Osama bin Laden. He has a resurgent U.S. auto industry. The economy shows signs of improvement.
And the Republicans, probably as worse as you've seen over the last three months...
STEPHANOPOULOS: And it's still a dead heat.
DOWD: It's still a dead heat in the general election. That's the president's problem.
BRAZILE: That's the volatility of this electorate. And that's why the Republicans cannot give up on Mitt Romney. He's damaged, but they cannot give up on Mitt Romney at this point.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's get to the issue that Howard has now raised, this whole controversy over -- Democrats say it's a war on women. Republicans say it's a war on religious liberty. Rush Limbaugh stepped in it this with that attack. Let's show the response from Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown student.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDRA FLUKE, GEORGETOWN LAW STUDENT: It was hurtful, but I understood that this is how people try to silence women when they speak out, especially when they speak out about their reproductive health.
It's just really, really upsetting that there's a sector of America society that thinks it's still OK to talk about women in this way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Fair to say, I think, George, we're going to see her picture in Democrat ads as well. I can only imagine the pressure that Rush Limbaugh was on yesterday to force that apology. You know, the advertisers came out and started to pull their ads. I would imagine also Republican leaders are calling and saying, get this issue off our backs.
WILL: Well, it would have been nice if they had shared that with the larger public, the Republican leaders. Instead, Mr. Boehner comes out and says, Rush's language was inappropriate. Using the salad fork for your entrée, that is inappropriate.
WILL: I mean, and Rick Santorum says, well, what he said was absurd but an entertainer is allowed to be absurd. No, it is the responsibility of conservatives to police the right and its excesses, just as the liberals unfailingly fail to police the excesses on their own side.
And it was depressing because what it indicates is that the Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh. They want to bomb Iran, but they're afraid of Rush Limbaugh.
NOONAN: Look, what Rush Limbaugh said was crude, rude, even piggish, it was just unacceptable, he ought to be called on it. I'm glad he has apologized. I guess there will be a debate now about the nature of the apology. But what he said was also destructive.
It confused the issue. It played into this trope that the Republicans have a war on women. No, they don't, but he made it look they that way. It confused the larger issue which is the real issue, which is "Obama-care," and its incursions against religious freedoms, which is a serious issue. It was not about this young lady at Georgetown.
So what he said was deeply destructive and unhelpful and he ought to be called on it.
DEAN: War on religious freedom is an important thing inside the Beltway among elite people, it's like the Fourth Amendment. It's a good argument for elite people. An attack on whether women can buy birth control pills or not, and have their insurance pay for it, every woman in America understands that.
This is a war on women. They've been warring on woman on abortion rights, now they're going after them on birth control rights. There's not a woman in the United States of America that doesn't get what the Republicans are doing.
And Mitt Romney is going to have to live with this. And he can't get out of it until the primary season is over. And that is his problem.
BRAZILE: George, last year the Republicans tried to redefine rape, over the last...
STEPHANOPOULOS: What do you mean by that?
BRAZILE: Redefine rape as it to relates to who's the victim, who's the accuser. There was a whole big fight that the Republicans had to back down on. In 36 of 44 state legislatures across the country, Republicans have put forward amendments to restrict woman's access to health care, birth control, mammogram screenings, of course, defining of personhood.
This is a campaign that women feel very strong about and I don't think -- it's not just partisan, because, you know what, we have pigs on the Democrat side. Some of us don't want to say it, we have pigs. We have make pigs.
WILL: Name names, Brazile.
BRAZILE: George, I have but just a few...
BRAZILE: But, we know the culture is sexist, misogynist. But this was -- what Rush Limbaugh did was over the top. And the Republicans had to figure out how to pull him back. They couldn't pull him back. They started to distance themselves. Then the advertisers stepped in, and that's why I believe it's a huge problem for Republicans.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mitt Romney hates talking about his entire issue. That is very, very clear. But he is going to have to engage it at some level, what would you advise?
DOWD: Well, the first thing is I think he -- anybody should have come out with some courage of their convictions and told Rush Limbaugh he was totally wrong to do this.
I think the myth -- there's a myth around Rush Limbaugh. This idea that he influences a large number of Republican voters is a complete myth. Keep in mind, Rush Limbaugh attacked Newt Gingrich before the South Carolina Primary, and Newt Gingrich won South Carolina.
And then Rush Limbaugh attacked Mitt Romney before the Florida Primary, and Mitt Romney wins Florida. I think the problem is the Republican leaders, Mitt Romney and the other candidates, don't have the courage to say what they say in quiet, which, they think Rush Limbaugh is a buffoon.
They think Rush Limbaugh is a buffoon. They don't think he's helpful in this marketplace. They think he is like a clown coming out of a small car at a circus. It's great he is entertaining and all that. But nobody takes him seriously.
If I were Mitt Romney, I would stand up and say, we need to change the political discourse in this country. Whatever words we use on the left or the right, we need to change the political discourse.
NOONAN: Yes, there's also a sense that those who are not sympathetic to conservatives love to make believe that conservatives are lemmings, who tug their forelock and say, yes, sir, to people like Rush Limbaugh. It should not be true. There are many reasons to believe it is not true. For those who do it, they should stop.
But, Donna, I have got to say, whether or not -- let's just call it birth control, not abortifacients and sterilization, whether or not birth control coverage under insurance companies is desirable, the real issue is you don't get it by -- through an assault on the First Amendment, which is more important.
This is about...
BRAZILE: It's about health care. It's about prevention. It's mammograms. It's not about sex. The Republicans keep thinking it's about sex. It's about preventing, you know, women...
NOONAN: It is about things that are unacceptable to our church.
BRAZILE: I am in that same church.
NOONAN: I know. And this is unacceptable to that church.
DEAN: And 82 percent (inaudible) use birth control pills. Give me a break here. I mean, it's ridiculous.
BRAZILE: It's unacceptable for women not to have a full range of reproductive health services when they need them.
DOWD: But part of what's happened here, part of, I think, what happens here, Rush says what he said, which is despicable, and then we use words like this is a war on women. It's not a war on women. There's not a bunch of Republicans out there, saying, I want to take women out, I don't them part of the political discourse.
People say wrong things. People do and sponsor wrong policies. But there's -- when we use terms like the -- whatever Rush said or even terms applied to African-Americans or terms applied to gay people, or terms to intellectual people, disabilities, or use word terms like war on women, that's the problem in our discourse. It's why we can't have a reasonable conversation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One Senate Republican -- perhaps this is not exactly what she had in mind, but fed up with our discourse, fed up with the way our system is working, Olympia Snowe this week, of Maine, bows out of the Senate. Here's what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R) MAINE: What I like to call the sensible Senate has now virtually disappeared in Washington, and the reality is it's nearly impossible to make progress without partners in the Senate, who are willing to reach out from all points on the political spectrum.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: George, I think a lot of Americans hear that and nod their heads.
WILL: Well, they may, but let me not nod my head. As she -- first of all, she says in a column in "The Washington Post," the country is divided and the Senate and the Congress itself is a representative institution, and it's representing real cleavages there.
Second, she cited as one of her examples of Congress being dysfunctional, what she calls the debacle over raising the debt limit. It wasn't a debacle. That's what a democracy looks like when, at long last, it turns around and begins to confront difficult choices.
Third, she says we can't get things done, 99 percent of good government, George, is stopping things from being done.
DEAN: I think, I don't agree with George, I think the country is not nearly as divided as the big mouths on both sides make it seem, including us. I think this is the younger generation, they look at things differently than us culture warriors. We look at the 10 percent of the things we firmly disagree on, we fight to the death.
The younger generation is interested in the 90 percent of the things they do agree on.
We did some incredible polling when I was the DMC chair that showed among evangelical Christians under 35, their top issues were, number one, poverty; number two, climate change; and, at that time, Darfur.
Why that different than what -- than what I would call secular activists care about. And for the younger generation, it's not. So the best thing that could happen to this country is to put the younger generation in power as fast as possible. And, in fact, they've made a huge down payment on that, because it was them that elected Barack Obama President of the United States.
DOWD: And I think, Olympia Snowe, I agree with what she said, obviously, and what's happened to our discourse and the division and polarization. But the solution to it, is exactly the opposite, I think, of what she did.
The solution to it is not to step back, reasonable, moderate people to step back and say, I can't be part of the conversation, therefore, I'm going to cede the territory to the Left and the Right and make it more polarizing.
I think the solution to it is actually go in there and fight the fight that you believe in, fight the fight that says I represent a majority of the country, and I'm going to stay here and fight, even if I lose.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Huge loss for the Senate.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We've got to take a break. A lot more roundtable coming up. We'll be right back.
(MUSIC PLAYING, TOM PETTY, "DON'T BACK DOWN")
STEPHANOPOULOS: "Don't Back Down," but that is Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will be in Washington later today to speak before the America Israeli Public Affairs Committee, and a major summit with President Obama tomorrow on the issue of Iran. And let's talk about that now.
Again, I'm joined again by George Will, Jeffrey Goldberg of "The Atlantic" magazine, major interview in theatlantic.com on this issue with President Obama; Christiane Amanpour, our global affairs anchor. And I want to show that interview right now, Jeffrey, on the theatlantic.com.
The president sat you down for 45 minutes late in the week, and it seemed like his key goal is -- making all kinds of headlines here and around the world -- his key goal is to stop an Israeli attack this year on these Iranian nuclear waste facilities. And the only way to do that is to convince Israel that we won't let them get a nuke.
He -- the president -- says I don't bluff in your interview. You also got him to sum up his message in the interview as basically saying we've got Israel's back.
GOLDBERG: Right. There are two messages -- well, at least two messages in this interview. The first was to Iran, which is, please take me seriously when I say it's unacceptable for you to cross the nuclear threshold.
But the more important message at the moment was right to the prime minister, which is, please, also, you take me seriously when I say that Iran is not going to cross the threshold on my watch. So don't do anything precipitous.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's when the president went a little bit farther in suggesting that when he says everything is on the table, he means it.
GOLDBERG: The language got a little tougher. He actually used the term military component when he -- to describe what options he's looking at. But the big question, obviously, in the meeting tomorrow, is Netanyahu is going to come and ask for specificity. He's going to say when, what are the exact conditions that are going to pertain. And I don't think president is going to give him that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: George, you know the prime minister, Prime Minister Netanyahu very well, what do you expect -- what do you expect him to hear, take away from this interview and then -- and to do?
WILL: I think what, you know, Mr. Netanyahu will tell the president is, the state of Israel was founded so that never again would Jews rely for their safety on others. It's that simple. And he'll say that over and over again.
But what struck me most in your article was six words, "Why is containment not your policy?" you asked the president? It's a good question. Why have we deterred Stalin and the Soviet arsenal? What can't we deter them?
On one hand, Bibi says -- Mr. Netanyahu says, it's a Messianic, apocalyptic cult, the regime in Iran. But the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says it's rational. The president, to you, says he's on a continuum. Well, where you are in that continuum matters tremendously.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And the president also says, Christiane, that the sanctions are working, we have to give them more of a chance. Do you get the sense from your sources in Iran that he's making any progress in convincing them not to go forward with a nuclear weapon?
AMANPOUR: You know, I've been talking all weekend to sources in Iran, Israeli, U.S. and other diplomats. And I think as we can say right now, obviously the president is going to try to delay this.
The White House is saying not just you in your interview but to anybody who will listen, that we believe there is still time and space for diplomacy.
Not only that, we believe that what we're doing right now with the sanctions are really hurting, but in a negotiated way to try to make a permanent solution to this nuclear crisis, rather than a military strike, which will really commit Israel or the U.S. or others to permanent military strikes to try to contain this.
And I think very, very importantly, I was struck in your interview by something I have been looking at, and many Islamic scholars have, again, the Shiite top leaders in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini talked about a fatwa against nuclear weapons, called it a great sin.
Now this is the biggest --
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the president said in his interview with Jeffrey, the question is are they going to back up those words (inaudible)?
AMANPOUR: But he used that and he actually made --
GOLDBERG: And a fatwa is an offramp. I mean, it is a possible offramp, where everybody saves face. The Iranians stop their program, and they can say, this -- we're stopping it not because Barack Obama told us to, but because Islam tells us to.
AMANPOUR: And diplomats have said, why not take them, then, if you're going to go into negotiations, take them at their word, what they're saying, and use that as the basis for starting negotiations. And in case nobody heard, the Supreme Leader, the foreign minister repeated it. And indeed --
STEPHANOPOULOS: (inaudible) more forces than they've ever --
AMANPOUR: And the sanctions are really biting.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You have been described to me by an administration official as the official therapist between the U.S. and Israel, and--
GOLDBERG: As a kid, that's what I dreamed of being one day. Yes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It's a very tough job, I'm glad you decided to take it on.
GOLDBERG: It's not, it's not easy.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The question is what -- and you raised it in your first answer -- how far does President Obama have to go? Is it enough for him to say we will not permit -- the moment Iran kicks out inspectors, we're prepared to go full-scale with military action?
GOLDBERG: Right. Look, I think what I'm looking for tomorrow out of this meeting -- if Netanyahu comes out and says the president and I had a good conversation, and I really believe that sanctions are working, and they are crippling, and leaves it at that, we'll know there's not going to be an attack. If he comes out and says, I want to praise the president for the strong sanctions regime, nevertheless the Iranians are racing toward a bomb, then we're looking at something else.
The president is not going to tell him when and what. He's not going to be boxed in. If you read the interview carefully, you will see that he refuses to say exactly what's on his mind. He's not going to limit his options.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, George, do you believe, do you take the Israelis at their word when they say they would not inform the White House?
WILL: Yes, and it goes back to what I said earlier, Israel is founded so that the Jews can be unilateral and sufficient in their own defense.
AMANPOUR: Let's be very frank here. Top Israelis who have briefed me, and many others I'm sure -- Israel can pretty much only do a what's been described a pinprick or a punch in the nose. There's no way that they can wipe out whatever they see on the ground in Iran, and everybody knows that.
So, Israeli officials believe that if they do go, they will have the United States following them.
But you know, General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that he believes -- and this is a very important sentence -- that Iran is a rational actor. The United States keeps saying that they don't -- they have no evidence that Iran has broken out at all or is--
STEPHANOPOULOS: Has crossed that line--
GOLDBERG: The president walked that back a little bit, but not too much. But one of the more important things the president has said in this interview, I think, is that he said the only permanent solution to Iran's nuclear program is to get the Iranians to stop it themselves. He said -- and I think people agree with this -- that a pre-emptive attack delays. It might delay a year, it might delay five years, but it only delays. So he' still looking for a way to get the Iranians to say, completely give up this program.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And the only time that has worked in the past, we have seen it in South Africa. Libya did it before Gadhafi--
GOLDBERG: Right. And the Iranians look at Libya, and they are not so happy about how that ended.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm afraid that's all we have time for right now. We're all going to be watching tomorrow. Thanks for the insight from all of you.
I'll be back to answer some questions you had this week, but first, we honor our fellow Americans who served and sacrificed.
This week, the Pentagon released the names of six service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally today, "Your Voice" this week where you get to ask the questions. I take a shot at answering them. And the first one today comes from Steve Hoppes. "Is it safe to assume that Democratic hopefuls are already jockeying for position to succeed President Obama? Who do you see as the top contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2016?"
It is awful early, but not too early. You have a trio of governors out there taking a look at it -- Martin O'Malley of Maryland, Andrew Cuomo of New York, John Hickenlooper of Colorado. Keep an eye also on the Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel -- not impossible he takes a look at this. He spoke at that Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa this year. And finally, we could be setting up a generational battle. Hillary Clinton said she's not interested, but I wouldn't completely rule out the possibility she takes a look at the race. And of course, Vice President Joe Biden is keeping his options open as well.
Also, Georgia Papouloglou Cannon writes, "I am Greek from Pyrgos Elias. What part of Greece are you from?" My mom is from Patras. My father is from a small village near Olympia called Myohorion (ph), which makes me a Spartan.
If you have got a question for me, send it in on FaceBook, Twitter at hashtag @askgeorge, or anytime at ABCnews.com and Yahoo.
That's all for us today. "World News With David Muir" has the latest tonight on those deadly tornadoes. And Tuesday night, Diane and I will be here at election headquarters all night long bringing you the Super Tuesday results as they come in.
Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."