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Obama Interview with Katie Couric - Conversation about bin Laden

Thursday, January 15, 2009

(CBS) In just six days, Barack Obama will be sworn-in as President of the United States. Today, Osama bin Laden marked the occasion with a new threat. But in an exclusive interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric, the president-elect sent a message of his own for bin Laden and his terror network. What follows is a partial transcript of the interview.

President-elect Barack Obama: We took our eye off the ball when we invaded Iraq. And now it's done. My job is to withdraw in a responsible way from Iraq and stabilize the situation there. But our real focus has to be on Afghanistan, the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And we have to put as much pressure on them as possible. I've already, you know, spoken to my national security team about how we're going to do that. And I'm confident that we can keep them on the run, and ensure that they cannot train terrorists to attack our homeland. That's my number one priority as President of the United States.

Couric: How important do you think it is, Mr. President-elect, to apprehend Osama bin Laden?

Mr. Obama: I think that we have to so weaken his infrastructure that, whether he is technically alive or not, he is so pinned down that he cannot function. My preference obviously would be to capture or kill him. But if we have so tightened the noose that he's in a cave somewhere and can't even communicate with his operatives, then we will meet our goal of protecting America.

Couric: A renewed ceasefire seems pretty elusive at this juncture between Hamas and Israel. What would you say to leaders on both sides to break through the stalemate?

Mr. Obama: Well, you know, I've been very clear on this, Katie, that until January 20th we have one president at a time and that's George Bush. But, we are gonna start on day one. Hillary Clinton, in her testimony during her confirmation hearing, expressed my views and the views of the administration that we can't delay. We can't kick the can down the road. We're gonna have to take a regional approach. We're gonna have to involve Syria in discussions. We're gonna have to engage Iran in ways that we have not before. We've gotta have a clear bottom line that Israel's security is paramount. But that also we have to create a two-state solution where people can live side by side in peace.

Couric: It was revealed yesterday that your nominee for Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geitner, failed to pay some taxes, and did so only after he learned he would be tapped as Treasury secretary. How embarrassing do you think this is for a future Treasury Secretary who will be overseeing the IRS?

Mr. Obama: Well, I think he's embarrassed about it. But we knew about this before we nominated him. It was an innocent mistake, a common mistake that's made. But here's the bottom line: Nobody denies that he is uniquely qualified for this job, that he has more experience in dealing with international crises. He's been uniformly praised by Republicans and Democrats and by the marketplace. And so … I'm confident he will be confirmed and I'm confident he will do an outstanding job.

Couric: And let me just end by asking you about the stimulus package. Forty percent of your stimulus package relies on tax cuts with the hopes that people will invest that money or put it back into the economy.

Mr. Obama: Right.

Couric: But some critics have said, "hey, that didn't really happen the last time." Why will it this time?

Mr. Obama: Well, there are a couple of things. First of all, I think it's important to understand that the majority of our spending is direct government spending on critical infrastructure that will set the table for long-term economic growth.

We're gonna double alternative energy. We're gonna rebuild our schools and community colleges and public universities. We're gonna invest billions of dollars in health information technology so that we can drive down costs for average families. So that's where the majority of the money's going.

Now, are some people gonna just pay down their credit cards or save some of that money? Absolutely. And if Congress has better suggestions where they can show me that one approach is gonna be better than another approach, I'm happy to take it. I don't have pride of authorship here. But the general framework, the general outlines of the plan are ones that we have run by economists from the left and the right, conservative, liberal. This is a package that I think is gonna make sense. I have every confidence that it's gonna work. But it's gonna take some time. And we've gotta do it with some speed. So my main message to Congress right now is "get it done."

Couric: And if it doesn't work?

Mr. Obama: Failure is never an option. Not in America.

You'll be able to see more of Couric's interview on a CBS News Special, "Change and Challenge: The Inauguration of Barack Obama," next Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET or 8 p.m. CT.


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