TRANSCRIPT: Gibson Interviews Obama

Democratic contender defends experience, discusses world politics.

ByABC News
July 23, 2008, 11:17 AM

July 23, 2008— -- The following is a transcript of an interview of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., by ABC News anchor Charles Gibson from Wednesday, July 23, 2008, in Jerusalem, Israel.

Gibson: Senator, let's talk about the trip as a whole. The polls indicate that a considerably larger percentage of the people in the United States think John McCain would make a good commander in chief than you. So is the trip principally designed to narrow that gap?

Obama: Well first of all I think given John McCain's military service, it's understandable that, I think, people would have some of those perceptions. The main purpose of the trip from my perspective is looking at some of the most critical issues that the next president is going to have to deal with and developing some relationships that I think can be useful in solving some of those problems -- obviously Iraq and Afghanistan, the situation here in the Middle East and the talks, or the needed talks, between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and then strengthening our transatlantic relationship which historically has been a centerpiece of our ability to act in concert with our allies.

Gibson: But can you do that in a trip that's this hectic, I mean it's eight countries in seven days. Doesn't it become just a series of photo ops?

Obama: Well you know, I have to say that every day so far for me has been extraordinarily useful. To have the ability not only to travel with our troops to near the Afghan-Pakistani border and get an on-the-ground assessment of the threats that folks are experiencing and then to be able to have a conversation with Karzai and get his assessment of what's needed in order to deal with counter, in order to deal with the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and the way it's supporting terrorist activity there. Those are very useful to me. I don't know how it's playing, one of the nice things about being in Afghanistan and Iraq was I didn't have the opportunity to watch any cable news for a whole three or four days. But what I know is that not only has it been useful for me, but also being able to have conversations with the troops and express extraordinary gratitude for not only 21 and 22 year-olds who are showing leadership that is remarkable, but talking to National Guard members, people in their 40s and 50s who are putting their lives and home on pause in order to accomplish terrific things.

Gibson: But do you sense that when I mentioned in the polls earlier, because it shows up continually in the polls that if people have a reservation about you, it is that you are young, you are inexperienced and that you are very new to the international stage.

Obama: Well in order to deal with the first problem, that I'm very young, I'm cropping a lot of gray hair over the last year and a half. But there is no doubt that as somebody who has not been in the national political scene as long as John McCain, that people are going to have more questions, and I think that's perfectly appropriate. Hopefully as people watch what I've said over the course of the campaign as well as the way that I conduct myself over the course of this trip, people have some confidence that I know what I'm talking about.

Gibson: John McCain has been critical of you for, in his words, "making up your mind, before you travel" on the issues that you'll consider while you travel. Is there one thing that you can tell me, on which you've changed your mind as a result of this trip? Changed your mind?

Obama: Well we've only been out of the country for 3 or 4 days so there's going to be a processing that needs to take place. I will tell you that as a consequence of my trip in Afghanistan for example, I am more convinced than ever that if we don't address Pakistan and what's happening in that country, it's going to be very difficult for us to solve what's happening in Afghanistan. I understood that…

Gibson: That's your position stated before you came here.

Obama: Yeah, but, well as I said, part of what I'm finding is a deepening and a greater detail to some of the perspectives that I've had. I think that, overall though, most of the statements that I've made before this trip are based not on tactical issues but on broader strategic questions and most of those broader strategic questions are ones that are shaped by information that is available even before I come to a region like this. It has to do with broader questions about what's happening in Afghanistan, what's happening in Iraq.

Gibson: So let's talk about the Israelis and the Palestinians. And you've said it would be a top priority to get the peace process going again here, so let's explore how you get to a two-state solution. To begin with, would you commit yourself to, to regular Israeli-Palestinian-US summits?

Obama: Well I don't know whether I'd call them summits, but what I would commit to is a high level of engagement by the United States right away. Understandably, a lot of administrations come in, want to get their sea legs first, we've got enormous domestic problems and I understand that. But assigning people who are serious and who both the Israelis and the Palestinians know, speaks for me, has my ear, and is aggressive in trying to work the process. I think that is very important.