Flickr: Random FactorFlickr: Random FactorSam Stein from Huffington Post got one last night to President Obama’s first press conference. I could definitely have done better than Michael Fletcher from the Washington Post…who asked the President about A-Rod. Nonetheless, some journalists veered from questions on the financial crisis to ask Obama about foreign policy. The crib notes:

On Iran: We love the people of Iran but their government has been doing some bad things (financial terrorist organizations, using unsavory language, and pursuing nuclear weapons). My national security team is looking for new opportunities for engagement, which might mean a face-to-face meeting in the next few months. I’ve sent some good signals with the appointment of George Mitchell and my interview with al-Arabiya. Ball’s in Tehran’s court.

On Iraq and Afghanistan: Due to the good work of our military and Amb. Crocker, a relatively peaceful election just occurred in Iraq, signally a somewhat functioning political system. We’re not yet there in Afghanistan. The central government seems “very detached” (ouch Karzai), and the bad guys are operating in the border region without a concerted effort to root them out. We’re going through a review, and we’re hoping for more effective coordination. (UND-In other words, I’m not sure what we’re doing yet)

Full transcript of these sections after the jump. (Via CNN)

Caren Bohan (Reuters): Thank you, Mr. President. I’d like to shift gears to foreign policy. What is your strategy for engaging Iran? And when will you start to implement it? Will your timetable be affected at all by the Iranian elections? And are you getting any indications that Iran is interested in a dialogue with the United States?

President Obama: I said during the campaign that Iran is a country that has extraordinary people, extraordinary history and traditions, but that its actions over many years now have been unhelpful when it comes to promoting peace and prosperity both in the region and around the world, that their attacks — or their — their financing of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, the bellicose language that they’ve used towards Israel, their development of a nuclear weapon or their pursuit of a nuclear weapon, that all those things create the possibility of destabilizing the region and are not only contrary to our interests, but I think are contrary to the interests of international peace.

What I’ve also said is that we should take an approach with Iran that employs all of the resources at the United States’ disposal, and that includes diplomacy.

And so my national security team is currently reviewing our existing Iran policy, looking at areas where we can have constructive dialogue, where we can directly engage with them.

And my expectation is, in the coming months, we will be looking for openings that can be created where we can start sitting across the table, face-to-face diplomatic overtures, that will allow us to move our policy in a new direction.

There’s been a lot of mistrust built up over the years, so it’s not going to happen overnight. And it’s important that, even as we engage in this direct diplomacy, we are very clear about certain deep concerns that we have as a country, that Iran understands that we find the funding of terrorist organizations unacceptable, that we’re clear about the fact that a nuclear Iran could set off a nuclear arms race in the region that would be profoundly destabilizing.

So there are going to be a set of objectives that we have in these conversations, but I think that there’s the possibility at least of a relationship of mutual respect and progress.

And I think that, if you look at how we’ve approached the Middle East, my designation of George Mitchell as a special envoy to help deal with the Arab-Israeli situation, some of the interviews that I’ve given, it indicates the degree to which we want to do things differently in the region.

Now it’s time for Iran to send some signals that it wants to act differently, as well, and recognize that, even as it has some rights as a member of the international community, with those rights come responsibilities.

Ed Henry (CNN): Thank you, Mr. President. You’ve promised to send more troops to Afghanistan. And since you’ve been very clear about a timetable to withdraw combat troops from Iraq within 16 months, I wonder, what’s your timetable to withdraw troops eventually from Afghanistan?

And related to that, there’s a Pentagon policy that bans media coverage of the flag-draped coffins from coming in to Dover Air Force Base. And back in 2004, then-Sen. Joe Biden said that it was shameful for dead soldiers to be, quote, “snuck back into the country under the cover of night.”

You’ve promised unprecedented transparency, openness in your government. Will you overturn that policy so the American people can see the full human cost of war?

President Obama: Your question is timely. We got reports that four American service members have been killed in Iraq today. And, you know, obviously, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families.

I’ve said before that — you know, people have asked me, when did it hit you that you are now president? And what I told them was the most sobering moment is signing letters to the families of our fallen heroes. It reminds you of the responsibilities that you carry in this office and — and the consequences of the decisions that you make.

Now, with respect to the policy of opening up media to loved ones being brought back home, we are in the process of reviewing those policies in conversations with the Department of Defense, so I don’t want to give you an answer now before I’ve evaluated that review and understand all the implications involved.

With respect to Afghanistan, this is going to be a big challenge. I think, because of the extraordinary work done by our troops and some very good diplomatic work done by Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker in Iraq, we just saw an election in Iraq that went relatively peacefully and you get a sense that the political system is now functioning in a meaningful way.

You do not see that yet in Afghanistan. They’ve got elections coming up, but effectively the national government seems very detached from what’s going on in the surrounding community.

In addition, you’ve got the Taliban and al Qaeda operating in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and these border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And what we haven’t seen is the kind of concerted effort to root out those safe havens that would ultimately make our mission successful.

So we are undergoing a thorough going review. Not only is Gen. [David] Petraeus — now the head of CENTCOM — conducting his own review; he’s now working in concert with the special envoy that I’ve sent over, Richard Holbrooke, one of our top diplomats, to evaluate a regional approach.

We are going to need more effective coordination of our military efforts, with diplomatic efforts, with development efforts, with more effective coordination with our allies in order for us to be successful.

The bottom line though — and I just want to remember the American people, because this is going to be difficult — is this is a situation in which a region served as the base to launch an attack that killed 3,000 Americans.

And this past week, I met with families of those who were lost in 9/11, a reminder of the costs of allowing those safe havens to exist.

My bottom line is that we cannot allow al Qaeda to operate. We cannot have those safe havens in that region. And we’re going to have to work both smartly and effectively, but with consistency in order to make sure that those safe havens don’t exist.

I do not have yet a timetable for how long that’s going to take. What I know is I’m not going to make — I’m not going to allow al Qaeda or [Osama] bin Laden to operate with impunity, planning attacks on the U.S. homeland.

Helen Thomas: Mr. President, do you think that Pakistan and — are maintaining the safe havens in Afghanistan for these so-called terrorists? And, also, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?

President Obama: Well, I think that Pakistan — there is no doubt that, in the FATA region of Pakistan, in the mountainous regions along the border of Afghanistan, that there are safe havens where terrorists are operating.

And one of the goals of Ambassador Holbrooke, as he is traveling throughout the region, is to deliver a message to Pakistan that they are endangered as much as we are by the continuation of those operations and that we’ve got to work in a regional fashion to root out those safe havens.

It’s not acceptable for Pakistan or for us to have folks who, with impunity, will kill innocent men, women and children. And, you know, I — I believe that the new government of Pakistan and — and Mr. [President Asif Ali] Zardari cares deeply about getting control of the situation. We want to be effective partners with them on that issue.

Well, Mr. Holbrooke is there, and that’s exactly why he’s being sent there, because I think that we have to make sure that Pakistan is a stalwart ally with us in battling this terrorist threat.

With respect to nuclear weapons, you know, I don’t want to speculate. What I know is this: that if we see a nuclear arms race in a region as volatile as the Middle East, everybody will be in danger.

And one of my goals is to prevent nuclear proliferation generally. I think that it’s important for the United States, in concert with Russia, to lead the way on this.

And, you know, I’ve mentioned this in conversations with the Russian president, Mr. [Dmitry] Medvedev, to let him know that it is important for us to restart the — the conversations about how we can start reducing our nuclear arsenals in an effective way so that we then have the standing to go to other countries and start stitching back together the nonproliferation treaties that, frankly, have been weakened over the last several years. OK.

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