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In 2004 Interview, Obama Said He'd Attack Before Iran Got Nukes

The President favored a diplomatic approach in 2004, but said surgical missile strikes may be necessary. Now, he's pressing the Israelis to let sanctions work, and his endgame isn't clear.

Posted on March 18, 2012, at 9:58 a.m. ET

Democratic President Barack Obama has sought to take the diplomatic approach to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, saying he would prefer to solve the issue "permanently, as opposed to temporarily" with an airstrike taking out Iran's nuclear facilities.

In a joint press conference with British Prime Minster David Cameron the President said “Because we have employed so many of the options that are available to us to persuade Iran to take a different course the window for solving this issue diplomatically is shrinking.”

But in a 2004 interview with the Chicago Tribune editorial board while running for Senate Obama said the United States might have to take action with "surgical" airstrikes to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon as a last resort.

"The big question is going to be, if Iran is resistant to these pressures, including economic sanctions, which I hope will be imposed if they do not cooperate, at what point are we going to, if any, are we going to take military action?" Obama asked.

Given the continuing war in Iraq, the United States is not in a position to invade Iran, but missile strikes might be a viable option, he said. Obama conceded that such strikes might further strain relations between the U.S. and the Arab world.

"In light of the fact that we're now in Iraq, with all the problems in terms of perceptions about America that have been created, us launching some missile strikes into Iran is not the optimal position for us to be in," he said.

"On the other hand, having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse. So I guess my instinct would be to err on not having those weapons in the possession of the ruling clerics of Iran. ... And I hope it doesn't get to that point. But realistically, as I watch how this thing has evolved, I'd be surprised if Iran blinked at this point."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.