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Q&A: Obama on Foreign Policy

Q. Would you anticipate an early change in those [senior military] positions?

A. I have not begun planning for military leadership assignments. Such assignments, when I make them, will be based on performance alone.

Q. You have called for retention of a "minimal over-the-horizon force . . . to protect American personnel and facilities, continue training Iraqi security forces and root out al-Qaeda." How many troops does that involve and where would they be based?

A. The precise size of the residual force will depend on consultations with our military commanders and will depend on the circumstances on the ground, including the willingness of the Iraqi government to move toward political accommodation. But let me be clear on one thing: I will end this war, and there will be far fewer Americans in Iraq conducting a much more limited set of missions that include counterterrorism and protection of our embassy and U.S. civilians.

Q. You've said you want to strengthen the [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] "so that nations that don't comply will automatically face strong international sanctions." What about those nuclear states that have refused to sign the NPT -- specifically Israel, India and Pakistan? Should they also be eligible for sanctions? If not, does that encourage countries like Iran simply to follow their example and withdraw from the treaty?

A. There's a big difference between countries that are members of the NPT and violate their obligations, and countries that have never signed up to these obligations. In the first instance, we need to enforce treaty obligations. Withdrawing from the NPT, after having violated its provisions, is contrary to international law and requires the strongest international response.

Q. Your policy on Iran calls for diplomatic engagement, and you have noted that we "haven't talked to Iran and they continue to build their nuclear program." Since you made that statement, the NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] has indicated that Iran suspended its nuclear program in 2003 as a result of international pressure. Why do you think talking would be more successful?

A. The NIE makes clear that Iran responds to international pressure, and it suggests that a verifiable end to Iran's nuclear program can be reached if we use a strategy of offering both carrots and sticks. If we refuse to talk to Iran until they have met all of our conditions, then it is not likely that those conditions will be met. We have tried not talking to Iran for many years; it has not worked.

The Bush-Cheney Iran policy has by no means been successful. Iran still maintains an illicit nuclear program; still supports terrorism across the region; and still threatens Israel and denies the Holocaust. I do not believe that the United States can successfully pressure Iran by refusing to talk to them. If we engage in direct and principled diplomacy, combined with increased sanctions, we will create more opportunities to make progress, gain more support for our efforts in the international community, and we can reduce the risk of an inadvertent military escalation with Iran.

Q. The intelligence community has undergone significant reorganization over the past several years with the establishment of the ODNI [Office of the Director of National Intelligence] and the Department of Homeland Security. Do you agree with the current structure? Would you replace the current heads of the intelligence agencies? Does it trouble you that virtually all of them are active duty or retired military officers?

A. I supported the intelligence reform that led to the current structure. I would improve the performance of the intelligence community in several ways. First, I have been troubled by both the politicization of intelligence in this administration, and the turnover at the top of our intelligence agencies. So I will make the Director of National Intelligence an official with a fixed term -- like the Chairman of the Federal Reserve -- to foster consistency and integrity in the office of the DNI. Second, I will make sure we go beyond reorganizing boxes on an organizational chart, so that we are strengthening our capabilities. To support information-sharing, I will pursue technology that allows us to efficiently collect and share information within and across our intelligence agencies. To prevent group-think, I will institutionalize the practice of developing competitive assessments of critical threats and strengthen our methodologies of analysis. To develop our human capacity, I will deploy additional trained operatives and train more analysts with specialized knowledge of local languages and culture. Third, I will restore the balance between the necessarily secret and the necessity of openness in a democratic society by creating a new national declassification center to set the rules of the road for declassification, and to put more information into the hands of the American people.

I will assess the leadership of each agency when I am elected president. I will look for the best person to do the job. I would seek a greater balance between military and civilian officials.

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