Exclusive Interview With Sen. Hillary Clinton

And we need to have a very intense diplomatic engagement with Iran, and I've advocated that for several years, in order for us to try to manage whatever they might do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But a lot of our experts look at Iran and they say there is a mass of Iranian people who want to be allied with the United States, want a democracy, and when they heard you say that if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons, we would obliterate Iran, they say that undermines -- experts say that undermines exactly the kind of people we want to be encouraging in Iran.

CLINTON: Well, the experts I consult with don't say that, George. Because here's what we're trying to convey. No. 1, we have to do everything possible to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. And I will do that. It would be destabilizing and dangerous for the world if Iran were nuclear weaponized.

No. 2, because of this split leadership and because of discontent among the people, we want to create some upward pressure that sends a very clear signal to the Supreme Leader and to Ahmadinejad and others, that going forward on nuclear weapons is not a free choice for Iran. And the very idea that they would translate into action some of the most outlandish comments that have been made by some of the Iranian leaders, and even contemplate wiping Israel off the face of the world, means that we've got to make it clear to them that will not go without massive retaliation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've also said we should extend our nuclear deterrent, including that threat of massive retaliation, to other countries in the region -- to Saudi Arabia, to Kuwait, to the UAE. And wouldn't that end up requiring a permanent U.S. presence in the Middle East that is even more extensive, would rival what we now have in Iraq?

CLINTON: But George, we have a permanent set of bases. We are in Kuwait, we're in Bahrain. We have our troops on the ground in other countries. Turkey is a NATO ally. We have a presence that predates our involvement in Iraq. And the reason we've been there all these years is to serve as a buffer, to serve as a check and balance on the originally designs of Saddam Hussein and on the potential threats from Iran.

But what I have said...

No, but what I've said is that if Iran continues to try to pursue a nuclear weapon, if you're sitting in one of the other capitals in the Gulf region and in the wider Middle East, you're not going to let Iran get that nuclear weapon. You're going to have your own nuclear weapons race.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the implications of that policy, as it was during the Cold War, when we said an attack on Paris is like an attack on New York, is that an attack on Riyadh is the same as an attack on Indianapolis? Is that wise policy?

CLINTON: Well, George, you know, I go back and look at what we did during the Cold War. I remember it very well, because I'm old enough to have been told to get under my desk in case we were attacked by the Soviet Union. I never understood what that was about, but we all did it, remember? And we had a Cold War where each of us, the Soviet Union and the United States, had missiles on hair trigger alert, aimed at the cities in our respective countries. And we deterred the nuclear conflagration that could have occurred by having tough diplomacy, by having presidents who really stood their ground, who said, "don't you dare think about this," and we will...

(CROSSTALK)

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