GOLDBERG: It seems unlikely that a regime built on anti-Americanism would want to appear to succumb to an American-led sanctions effort.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think the question here is going to be: What exactly are their genuine interests? Now, what we've seen, what we've heard directly from them over the last couple of weeks is that nuclear weapons are sinful and un-Islamic. And those are formal speeches from the supreme leader and their foreign minister.
GOLDBERG: Do you believe their sincerity?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: My point here is not that I believe the sincerity of the statements coming out of the regime. The point is that for them to prove to the international community that their intentions are peaceful and that they are, in fact, not pursuing weapons is not inconsistent with what they've said. So it doesn't require them to knuckle under to us. What it does require is for them to actually show to the world that there is consistency between their actions and their statements. And that's something they should be able to do without losing face.
GOLDBERG: Let me flip this entirely around and ask: Why is containment not your policy? In the sense that we contained the Soviet Union, North Korea --
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It's for the reason I described -- because you're talking about the most volatile region in the world. It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon. Iran is known to sponsor terrorist organizations, so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe.
The only analogous situation is North Korea. We have applied a lot of pressure on North Korea as well and, in fact, today found them willing to suspend some of their nuclear activities and missile testing and come back to the table. But North Korea is even more isolated, and certainly less capable of shaping the environment [around it] than Iran is. And so the dangers of an Iran getting nuclear weapons that then leads to a free-for-all in the Middle East is something that I think would be very dangerous for the world.
GOLDBERG: Do you see accidental nuclear escalation as an issue?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely. Look, the fact is, I don't think any of it would be accidental. I think it would be very intentional. If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, I won't name the countries, but there are probably four or five countries in the Middle East who say, "We are going to start a program and we will have nuclear weapons." And at that point, the prospect for miscalculation in a region that has that many tensions and fissures is profound. You essentially then duplicate the challenges of India and Pakistan fivefold or tenfold.
GOLDBERG: With everybody pointing at everybody else.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: With everybody pointing at everybody else.
GOLDBERG: What I'm getting at specifically is, let's assume there's a Hezbollah attack on Israel. Israel responds into Lebanon. Iran goes on some kind of a nuclear alert, and then one- two-three --
PRESIDENT OBAMA: The potential for escalation in those circumstances is profoundly dangerous, and in addition to just the potential human costs of a nuclear escalation like that in the Middle East, just imagine what would happen in terms of the world economy. The possibilities of the sort of energy disruptions that we've never seen before occurring, and the world economy basically coming to a halt, would be pretty profound. So when I say this is in the U.S. interest, I'm not saying this is something we'd like to solve. I'm saying this is something we have to solve.
GOLDBERG: One of the aspects of this is the question of whether it's plausible that Barack Obama would ever use military power to stop Iran. The Republicans are trying to make this an issue -- and not only the Republicans -- saying that this man, by his disposition, by his character, by his party, by his center-left outlook, is not going to do that.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Look, if people want to say about me that I have a profound preference for peace over war, that every time I order young men and women into a combat theater and then see the consequences on some of them, if they're lucky enough to come back, that this weighs on me -- I make no apologies for that. Because anybody who is sitting in my chair who isn't mindful of the costs of war shouldn't be here, because it's serious business. These aren't video games that we're playing here.
Now, having said that, I think it's fair to say that the last three years, I've shown myself pretty clearly willing, when I believe it is in the core national interest of the United States, to direct military actions, even when they entail enormous risks. And obviously, the bin Laden operation is the most dramatic, but al-Qaeda was on its [knees] well before we took out bin Laden because of our activities and my direction.