And so part of my argument here is that we will not intervene militarily to bring that transition about. But all the countries in the region, and I think the entire world and the United Nations, should have an interest in trying to bring about that stability.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What do you think Iran makes of all this? You mentioned Iran. Do you think they can look at all this and say, "Maybe all options aren't on the table, you're not willing to use force?"
OBAMA: No, I think -- I think the Iranians, who we communicate with in indirect ways...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Have you reached out personally to the new president?
OBAMA: I have. And he's reached out to me. We haven't spoken directly. But --
OBAMA: Yes. And I think what the Iranians understand is that the nuclear issue is a far larger issue for us than the chemical weapons issue, that the threat against Israel that a nuclear Iran poses, is much closer to our core interests, that a nuclear arms race in the region is something that would be profoundly destabilizing.
And so my suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn't draw a lesson that we haven't struck to think we won't strike Iran. On the other hand, what is what they should draw from this lesson is that there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically. And --
STEPHANOPOULOS: You think they're there? You think they believe that?
OBAMA: I think they recognize, in part, because of the extraordinary sanctions that we placed on them, that the world community is united when it comes to wanting to prevent a nuclear arms race in the region.
And you know, negotiations with the Iranians is always difficult. I think this new president is not going to suddenly make it easy. But you know, my view is that if you have both a credible threat of force, combined with a rigorous diplomatic effort, that, in fact, you can strike a deal.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But --
OBAMA: And I hold out that hope.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Final foreign policy question. You've had some -- a lot of armchair criticism.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm sure you're used to that.
OBAMA: I am.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Corker, Foreign Relations Committee, said you're not comfortable as commander in chief; it's like watching a person who's caged.
The president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, "Words like ad-hoc, improvised, unsteady come to mind. This is probably the most undisciplined stretch of foreign policy in your presidency."
What do you make of that?
OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that folks here in Washington like to grade on style. And so had we rolled out something that was very smooth and disciplined and linear they would have graded it well, even if it was a disastrous policy. We know that, because that's exactly how they graded the Iraq War until it ended up --
STEPHANOPOULOS: So this doesn't change your view --
OBAMA: -- blowing in our face.
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- of President Bush?
OBAMA: No, no. What it says is that I'm less concerned about style points; I'm much more concerned about getting the policy right.
And what I've said consistently throughout is that the chemical weapons issue is a problem. I want that problem dealt with.