Interview of President Obama by Justin Webb, BBC (Excerpts)

June 1, 2009

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Q What the Israelis say is that they have managed to persuade you at least to concentrate on Iran and to give what's -- behind the scenes they're calling it a bit of an ultimatum to the Iranians: By the end of this year there must be some real progress.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the only thing I'd correct on that is I don't think the Israelis needed to convince me of that, since I've been talking about it for the last two years. What I have said is that it is in the world's interests for Iran to set aside ambitions for a nuclear weapon, but that the best way to accomplish that is through tough, direct diplomacy.

And what I was very clear about was that although I don't want to put artificial time tables on that process, we do want to make sure that by the end of this year we've actually seen a serious process move forward, and I think that we can measure whether or not the Iranians are serious.

My personal view is that the Islamic state of Iran has the potential to be a extraordinarily powerful and prosperous country. They are more likely to achieve that in the absence of nuclear weapons -- they could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, not just responses from Israel, by the way, but potentially other states in the region -- and that if what's preventing them from seeing that reality is 30 years of loggerheads between Iran and the United States, then this may be an opportunity for us to open the door and see if they walk through.

Now, there's no guarantees that they respond in a constructive way. That's part of what we need to test.

Q A couple of former members of the National Security Council actually suggest that you should go further, though, and that Iran should be regarded in the same way as Japan; in other words, nuclear reprocessing should be accepted and monitored by the international community. Is that remotely possible?

THE PRESIDENT: I think that the key right now is to initiate a process that is meaningful, that is rigorous between not only the United States and Iran bilaterally, but also continuing with the P5-plus-one discussions in a way that's constructive. Without going into specifics, what I do believe is that Iran has legitimate energy concerns, legitimate aspirations. On the other hand, the international community has a very real interest in preventing a nuclear arms race in the region. Now one --

Q But could Iran have the right to reprocess energy?

THE PRESIDENT: One point that I want to make is that in my speech in Prague I talked about how we need to reinvigorate a much broader agenda for nuclear nonproliferation, including the United States and Russia, drawing down our stockpiles in very significant ways.

To the extent that Iran feels that they are treated differently than everybody else, that makes them embattled. To the extent that we're having a broader conversation about how all countries have an interest in containing and reducing over time the nuclear proliferation threat, that I think has to be part and parcel of our broader agenda.

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