April 9, 2010— -- "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.
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.
STEPHANOPOULOS:I want to get to some of those broader issues. Because you're also facing criticism on that. Sarah Palin, taking aim at your decision to restrict the use of nuclear weapons. Your pledge not to strike nations, non-nuclear nations, who abide by the nonproliferation treaty. Here's what she said. She said, "It's unbelievable, no other administration would do it." And then she likened it to kids on the playground. She said you're like a kid who says, "Punch me in the face, and I'm not going to retaliate." Your response?
OBAMA:I really have no response. Because last I checked, Sarah Palin's not much of an expert on nuclear issues.
STEPHANOPOULOS:But the string of criticism has been out there among other Republicans as well. They think you're restricting use of nuclear weapons too much.
OBAMA:And what I would say to them is that if the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff are comfortable with it, I'm probably going to take my advice from them and not from Sarah Palin.
STEPHANOPOULOS:But not concerned about her criticisms?
STEPHANOPOULOS:Let's talk about President Medvedev. I'm going to see him tomorrow. You've spoken with him about 14 times negotiating this treaty. And it's been a struggle. If this was just two lawyers hammering out the details, what did you learn about him?
OBAMA:Well, he -- he is a -- he's a very deliberate, very methodical, very honest partner in negotiations, which I find very useful. He's somebody who says, "Here's what I can do, here's what I can't do." He, he showed flexibility in negotiations, that, you know, haven't always been the case in negotiations between the United States and Russia, where essentially you can just trade the talking points and not --
STEPHANOPOULOS:He -- really talked?
OBAMA:He actually talked, he actually listened. I think we've developed a good working relationship. And I, what he recognizes -- and is, I think, one of the central concerns of our whole approach -- is that, you know, although the United States and Russia remain by far the largest nuclear superpowers, that the issues of proliferation, the challenges of nuclear terrorism and asymmetric threats, loose nuclear materials, that these are all things that in this environment, probably pose a much greater danger to the safety and security of the American people, or for that matter, the Russian people, than, you know, particular payloads coming from historic adversaries like the United States and the former Soviet Union.