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Special Report

Assessing Obama's message on Iran

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 6, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have a window to which we can resolve this issue peacefully. We have put forward an international framework that is applying unprecedented pressure. The Iranians just stated that they are willing to return to the negotiating table. And we've got the opportunity even as we maintain that pressure to see how it plays out.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: My friends, Israel has waited, patiently waited for the international community to resolve this issue. We have waited for diplomacy to work. We have waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Two very different messages from President Obama today at a news conference, his first in four months, and the prime minister of Israel speaking to AIPAC. President Obama today walking back a little bit what he said at AIPAC in his own speech, really trying to tamp down numerous times that the U.S. and Israel are on the brink of war. We're back with the panel. Steve, it was a much different presentation today than it was in his speech over the weekend where he repeated that the U.S. has Israel's back.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The difference in tone and content was striking. The president at one point in his press conference today was asked to explain what he meant by the United States has Israel's back. And he said, first, that's a historical allusion. Basically, we have done this in the past. Second, he said, this is not a military doctrine. We're not necessarily saying that we are supportive of an Israeli strike on these facilities.

If your goal as President Obama was this weekend to convince Benjamin Netanyahu that you were willing to -- that he could put this off because you were there with him, that this was a partnership that couldn't be broken, I think he did a tremendous amount of damage to that. If that was the goal privately, if that was what was communicated privately in these meetings yesterday and then he had this press conference today sending what sounded to me like a different message, certainly a different message from the interview he gave to Jeffrey Goldberg of the The Atlantic, a different message that he communicated in his the AIPAC speech and this press conference today he is sending mixed signals at precisely the wrong time. And in my view, that erosion of trust if indeed that happens, ironically makes war more likely not less.

BAIER: Juan, do you sigh the dichotomy there?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE HILL: No, I don't. And I went back and looked at it. Steve pointed it out to me when we were talking. And I must say it's been very clear all along that the president is trying to keep this bellicose attitude to a minimum and to say very clearly that all of this war talk simply drives up oil price and makes it more likely that we end up in an armed conflict. And he is trying to minimize that possibility and hopeful of terms of the power of sanctions, not only sanctions, but international pressure building coalitions that would work and the fact that the Iranians have now said they are willing to return to negotiating table.

BAIER: Andrea, the Republican candidate spoke to the Jewish American Interest Group AIPAC, all of them, except Ron Paul, I believe. And they had very interesting things to say. The president reacted to all of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The only thing respected by thugs and tyrants is our resolve backed by our power and our readiness to use it.

NEWT GINGRICH, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The redline is not the morning our intelligence community tells us they have failed again. The redline is now.

RICK SANTORUM, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If they do not tear down those facilities, we will tear down them ourselves.

OBAMA: If some of folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: What about that response from the president?

ANDREA TANTAROS, CO-HOST, THE FIVE: Yes, he went on to also criticize them even further for speaking up on one of these issues. But remember, when he was candidate Obama in 2008, he did a lot of electioneering himself on this issue and made a lot promises, promises that he has actually thrown out the window.

So, I do think -- I do agree with Juan on one front. I think the president is dealing with a country that has war fatigue. And I think he is trying to balance that, particularly, with the way that Afghanistan is going, and I think arguably a country that doesn't trust him to lead another war. So I think he is trying to be careful there.

But without any kind of backing from the U.S., these sanctions mean nothing. And frankly, they do not kick in until June. We won't see the effects of them until August. And to think that even sanctions would stop Iran from becoming nuclear I think is naive.

BAIER: Brit?

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That is the real question. The sanctions that have been implied so far are causing the Iranian people and presumably to some extent the Iranian government some real heartache and some real problems. So the question is, ya know, can they work? And would not the effect of the sanctions be enhanced if the Iranian regime believed that the United States in total union with Israel was ready to take military action if they didn't? It seems to me that kind of message is the kind most likely to affect a change.

It's hard not to get through to this Iranian regime with a direct message, with a message that is in any way confused or seems to be changing from day-to-day, it seems to me the task is much more difficult. So my sense about this is that the president may be looking at the attitudes within his party or the worries about the public or the war weariness of which you spoke, Bret. But I don't know that softening his message after toughening it up is going to help the cause. It may, as I think Steve suggests, make the possibility in the long run of armed conflict of one kind or another greater.

BAIER: Juan, isn't it confusing, those two different messages, the speech and then the message at the press conference today, at least for Israelis?

WILLIAMS: You know, I really don't see it. To me, in the press conference he was reacting to the fact that you have all of this war talk out on the campaign trail from people who are saying, you know, we must be hard. Those were the speeches at AIPAC today. We have got to be tough, we've got to make sure the Iranians are running and say oh, my gosh, the United States is coming, the United States is coming. That was his response, to say if you believe that war is the answer then tell the American people that. Lay it out on the table. And there is not one of these candidates who is going to make that case effectively.

And to the contrary, I think that when the president says that he has Israel's back and says he has a history of taking high risk military operations and steps when necessary to protect American interests, there is no reason to doubt him.

HUME: Well, there is reason to doubt it Juan if it he turns around three days later and says now folks, folks don't get the wrong impression. When I said we had Israel's back -- a country facing what it believes, I think, with good reason is an existential threat -- and says now that is not a military doctrine. If you are sitting in Tehran listening to that message, you breathe a huge sigh of relief.

WILLIAMS: Well, why would you say - oh you say it's not a military doctrine? I think the president means by that, that he is not therefore saying I'm sending missiles at the moment. He is saying we have Israel's back, historically, we have their back at this moment.

HUME: If you say to a country facing what it thinks is a threat to its very existence, which is clearly prepared to act on its own, we've got your back, that to me communicates an unmistakable signal or reasonably can be interpreted as communicating an unmistakable signal that we're with you if you go or we'll join you, one or both. It doesn't mean --

(CORSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: I think the conversation at the moment has been about when you go and making sure there is time for negotiation.

HUME: He said military doctrine period. This is not a military doctrine. End of sentence.

TANTAROS: The question is when do we have their back? And there is a difference between Netanyahu and Obama on when the time is to really have their back, right? Obama believes that when they actually get the nuclear capabilities then we go. There is a difference between that capability. And Hillary Clinton had to walk that back earlier this week. Netanyahu says that is going to be too late by the time that happens. So I think there is a question of, when do we actually have their back?

BAIER: Steve?

HAYES: Well, and the president said in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, he said well, it's not good policy to announce our intentions. And then today he gave a timeframe. He said this is not -- this window does not close in the next week or two weeks, month, or two months. That's a timeframe. You can't do that. He also I think at one point pitted, seems to pit the Israeli intelligence service, which basically he says, says that there is enough time against Prime Minister Netanyahu. That is not constructive either.

WILLIAMS: No, but what we know is, for Israel, and Defense Secretary Panetta has spoken to this, he said basically by late spring/summer he believes Israel is likely to attack. But the Israelis have said that the United States has superior military force, Brit, and has the ability to wait a longer time.

HUME: You believe that by spring or summer when the window supposedly closes --

WILLIAMS: For Israel.

HUME: -- President Obama will be any more likely to support or participate in military action against Iran to deal with this threat than he is now?

WILLIAMS: Of course. It seems to me that if you have diplomacy fail -- and remember, we have not demonstrated, nobody has demonstrated, intelligence community, nobody, Israel, ours, that in fact the Iranians are in the business of building nuclear weapons. What we're talking about is they have facilities. The question is whether or not they are going to pursue it. And given our recent history in this country with wars we entered into thinking that we had some intelligence that proved to be wrong, isn't it a good idea that we should be cautious and go slow?

HUME: We haven't exactly been rocketing down this road, Juan.

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: I must say -- with all the talk on the Republican campaign trail, it seems like there's some war hungry people.

BAIER: I have let the horses run on this panel.

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