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Video: Obama on Iran missiles, interview

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TODAY contributor
updated 7/9/2008 9:56:47 AM ET 2008-07-09T13:56:47

Barack Obama said it was a mistake to allow his daughters to be interviewed extensively by “Access Hollywood,” and he will not allow it to happen again.

“I think that we got carried away in the moment,” the Illinois senator and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Wednesday. “We were having a birthday party, and everybody was laughing. And suddenly this thing cropped up. I didn’t catch it quickly enough. I was surprised by the attention it received.”

The interview, which is being aired in four parts this week on “Access Hollywood,” took place last week in Butte, Mont. In it, Obama and his wife, Michelle, sit down with their daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, to talk about family life and what it’s like to be the daughters of a presidential candidate.

The interview, conducted by Maria Menounos, prompted criticism of the candidate, who had said that he wanted to keep his family life private, but now seemed to be using his family to advance his candidacy.

On Tuesday’s “Verdict with Dan Abrams” on MSNBC, Menounos explained how Obama’s daughters wound up in the interview along with their parents. “The interview originally was just supposed to be the senator and his wife,” she said. “We get there and it was the Fourth of July, it was Malia’s birthday — the circumstances surrounding that day I think kind of lended themselves to a more comfortable atmosphere for the girls.”

Abrams was skeptical: “Really? You’re convinced it was spontaneous?”

“Absolutely, it was,” Menounos affirmed. “The senator and his wife sat down — they were right next to each other, and all of a sudden after they're miked and we’re about to go, the girls
pop in, and Sasha sits in between. She like wedges her way in, and the senator goes, ‘You look like you figured out where you want to sit. OK.’ So it just kind of happened.”

Menounos continued: “It was just kind of organic, it was happening, and I kind of sat back at different points and let the girls be themselves, because we never get to see that and we're probably never going to get to see them in a situation like this again.”

On TODAY, Obama confirmed that prediction when Lauer asked him whether the family would do similar sessions in the future.

“We wouldn’t do it again, and we won’t be doing it again,” the candidate said flatly.

Mideast tensions
Obama’s assessment that the interview was a mistake came at the end of a wide-ranging interview on subjects ranging from military exercises just held by Iran to the perception that Obama has been moving his positions to the center of the political spectrum to make himself more electable in November.

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The Iranian military exercises, which included test firing of long-range ballistic missiles that could reach Israel as well as U.S. military bases throughout the Mideast, were viewed with particular alarm around the world. “There’s no doubt we’re seeing rising tensions in the area,” Obama told Lauer. “That’s why it’s so important that we have a coherent policy in Iran. We have to have the sort of aggressive diplomacy that’s been absent in the past several years.”

He said the problem is partly due to the Bush administration’s policy of “farming out” diplomatic efforts in Iran to European nations. And while the Bush administration has talked about isolating Iran, he said, American companies have continued to do business there. “During the Bush years, U.S. exports to Iran have actually increased,” he said. “That’s a mistake. That sends mixed messages to them.”

At the recent G8 Summit, world leaders discussed sending a European foreign policy advisor to Tehran to discuss an incentive package if Iran will dismantle its uranium enrichment program, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says will lead to the nation building nuclear weapons.

Obama said it’s not enough to rely on a European envoy.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but the United States has to be actively engaged in that process,” he said. “Part of what we have to do is get the Europeans, the Chinese, the Russians all to recognize that it’s in nobody’s interest, including Iran’s, I believe, to have a nuclear weapon that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. That’s something I intend to make a number one priority when I get in the White House — making sure they don’t have that nuclear weapon.”

Economic inequality
On the economy, Obama has recently targeted women’s jobs as a priority issue. Lauer asked why he singled out women in an economy that is flagging on many fronts.

“It’s not that women are unique in feeling pressure under this economy. It’s the fact they get paid 78 cents on the dollar compared to men, and 62 percent of families rely on women for at least half and maybe more than half of their income,” Obama replied. “So if we can raise wages and incomes for women, if we can make sure that they’ve got paid family leave, if they’ve got more support for child care, that doesn’t’ just benefit women. It benefits all American families.”

The perceived shifting of Obama’s political positions was the subject of a blistering Tuesday op-ed piece by Bob Herbert in The New York Times. “Senator Obama is not just tacking gently toward the center. He’s lurching right when it suits him,” Herbert charged.

Obama insisted that his positions have not changed. He said he’s supported faith-based Video: Meet the Obamas initiatives for at least two years and that he has consistently called for the death penalty in “narrow circumstances,” such as the rape of a child.

He also said that his recent statement that he would talk to commanders on the ground in Iraq before withdrawing troops does not represent a change in his promise to get American forces out of that country in 16 months.

“That’s what I’ve been saying all along, that I would obviously listen to commanders, but as commander in chief, I would be setting strategy,” Obama told Lauer. “I have not changed from my position that we can have our troops out at a pace of one to two brigades per month, which adds up to 16 months.”

He said that recent Iraqi calls for a timetable for withdrawal show that he’s on the right track.

“The American people believe we need a timetable. The Iraqi government believes that it’s ready to stand up and take on these responsibilities, we are seeing a declining security situation in Afghanistan that has to be shored up,” Obama told Lauer. “We have enormous burdens on our military families, and we’re spending $10 to $12 billion a month in Iraq that could be used to put people back to work here in the United States and create an energy policy that frees us from dependence on foreign oil.”

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