Q&A: Obama on Foreign Policy

Sunday, March 2, 2008; 8:11 PM

Illinois senator responds to written questions submitted by the Washington Post.

Q. Do you believe democracy promotion should be a primary U.S. goal? If so, how would you achieve it? How would you balance democracy and human rights priorities against other strategic needs in the case of countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China and Russia?

A. We benefit from the expansion of democracy: Democracies are our best trading partners, our most valuable allies and the nations with which we share our deepest values.

Our greatest tool in advancing democracy is our own example. That's why I will end torture, end extraordinary rendition and indefinite detentions; restore habeas corpus; and close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

I will significantly increase funding for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and other nongovernmental organizations to support civic activists in repressive societies. And I will start a new Rapid Response Fund for young democracies and post-conflict societies that will provide foreign aid, debt relief, technical assistance and investment packages that show the people of newly hopeful countries that democracy and peace deliver, and the United States stands by them.

I recognize that our security interests will sometimes necessitate that we work with regimes with which we have fundamental disagreements; yet, those interests need not and must not prevent us from lending our consistent support to those who are committed to democracy and respect for human rights.

Q. You have said that you will open talks with countries such as Iran, Cuba and North Korea. Are you willing to reestablish diplomatic relations with Iran and Cuba as the logical extension of that policy, and open an embassy in Pyongyang?

A. I have said that we should consider carrots as well as sticks in our negotiations with these and other countries. Reinstatement of normal diplomatic relations is one carrot I might consider, but normalizing relations would require the countries meeting their requirements on key U.S. and international demands, which in the case of Iran, for example, would mean verifiably ending its nuclear program and its support for terrorism. On Cuba, I have made clear that I will authorize unlimited family travel and family cash remittances.

Q. You have said that as president you will focus on the Israeli-Palestinian issue "from the start." . . . How will you succeed where other presidents have failed? What, specifically, can you do to "insist" that good faith efforts are made? What leverage are you prepared to use?

A. The current administration has talked a good game on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, but until recently it has done very little. The Annapolis conference was a worthy, but late, effort, and already the follow-up has been lacking. As president, I will commit myself personally, and I will assign high-caliber diplomats, to be engaged with both sides on an ongoing basis -- encouraging communication, helping them develop and implement solutions, holding them accountable to their commitments by carefully monitoring and reporting on their implementation. I will also demand greater support for this process from the Arab world.

Q. You have said that within your first 100 days in office, you would give a major speech in a "major Islamic forum" in which you will "redefine our struggle." What is that redefinition? What would be the substance of that speech?

A. As president of the United States, I will directly address the people of the Muslim world to make it clear that the United States is not at war with Islam, that our enemy is al-Qaeda and its tactical and ideological affiliates, and that our struggle is shared. In this speech, I will make it clear that the United States rejects torture -- without equivocation, and will close Guantanamo. I will make it clear that the United States stands ready to support those who reject violence with closer security cooperation; an agenda of hope -- backed by increased foreign assistance -- to support justice, development and democracy in the Muslim world; and a new program of outreach to strengthen ties between the American people and people in Muslim countries. I will also make it clear that we will expect greater cooperation from Muslim countries; and that the United States will always stand for basic human rights -- including the rights of women -- and reject the scourge of anti-Semitism. Simply put, I will say that we are on the side of the aspirations of all peace-loving Muslims, and together we must build a new spirit of partnership to combat terrorists who threaten our common security.

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