Barack Obama prefers mild measures to sanctions – he said that if elected a president, he would not start the war, but would personally negotiate with Iran, offering economic incentives and a chance for peaceful relations if Iranian leaders would forego pursuit of nuclear weapons and support of terrorists.
Citing a long history of progress through diplomatic gestures toward China and the former Soviet Union, Obama, a U.S. senator representing Illinois, laid out in stronger terms his call for diplomacy with Iran - a policy with greater emphasis on negotiation than the Bush administration policy and a stance that has been ridiculed by his fellow Democratic presidential candidates.
"There is the potential at least for us finding ways of peacefully resolving some of our conflicts, and that effort has not been attempted," Obama said. "And if we don't make that attempt, then we're going to find ourselves continuing on the path that Bush and Cheney have set, and we're seeing the rhetoric rise every day."
"It has consequences not only for our strategic interests, it has consequences for our troops in Iraq and it has consequences for our economy," Obama told NBC's "Today" show.
Obama has come under repeated criticism from other presidential candidates - Democrats and Republicans, alike - for saying in a July presidential debate that he would be willing to meet with leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea without condition.
He reiterated statements in a New York Times interview, published Friday, in which he said Iran might be offered membership in the World Trade Organization and assurances that the United States would not seek "regime change" if Iranian leaders changed their ways on key issues.
"We would be very clear with Iran and say 'We don't accept your development of nuclear weapons'," Obama told NBC, saying he would also strongly reject Iran's financing of terrorist organizations and its anti-Israel rhetoric.
Asked about suggestions from Hillary Clinton's campaign that six other Democrats, all men, unfairly piled on the only female candidate at the last debate, Obama said he had experienced similar attacks in an earlier debate in Iowa, when he talked about negotiating Iran and other rogue nations.
"We spent, I think, the first 15 minutes of the debate hitting me on various foreign policy issues and I didn't come out and say look I'm being hit on because I look different from the rest of the folks on the stage," said Obama, the son of a black father and a white mother.
"I assumed it was because there were real policy differences there," he said. "And I think that has to be the attitude that all of us take."