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Interview With Diane Sawyer on ABC "World News Tonight"

March 29, 2011

SAWYER: And now right here in New York today I sat down with President Obama to get the very latest on Moammar Gadhafi and whether the U.S. will have to go even further, even giving arms to the rebels in Libya. Today the rebels seemed to be under assault by Gadhafi's forces, taking big casualties.

And at the same time, in the nearby country of Syria, President Bashar Assad was forced to promise big changes there, streets filled with protesters.

But in my interview with the president I started by asking about Gadhafi and those reports that he is trying to make a deal.

[begin videotape]

SAWYER: As of this moment, any sign Gadhafi wants out?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think what we're seeing is that the circle around Gadhafi understands that the noose is tightening, that their days are probably numbered and they're going to have to think through what their next steps are. But, as I have been very clear about throughout, there are certain things they can do that will send a signal that he's ready to go. Until that time, we're going to keep on applying pressure and hopefully he's going to be getting the message soon.

SAWYER: If Gadhafi ends up in a villa someplace in Zimbabwe with no war crimes trial, is that okay with you?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, that's not going to be my decision alone. I will tell you, though, that the first step is for Gadhafi to send a signal that he understands the Libyan people don't want him ruling any more, that 40 years of tyranny is enough. Once he makes that decision, I think the international community will come together and make a determination as to what the most appropriate way of facilitating him stepping down will be.

SAWYER: Have you made any - or would you make any calls to say, take him?

THE PRESIDENT: We have not gotten to that stage yet.

SAWYER: We are hearing tonight it's fierce fighting. The U.S. must send munitions. How long would it take to get there?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I wouldn't speculate on that. I think that it's fair to say that if we wanted to get weapons into Libya, we probably could. We're looking at all our options at this point. But keep in mind what we've accomplished. We have instituted a no-fly zone that can be sustained for quite some time because it's an international effort.

SAWYER: Can we say that we could have it in there in a day, in two days?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm not going to talk about operations like that at that level.

SAWYER: I want to try to clarify what you're saying today to the people of Syria.

SAWYER: [voiceover] We specifically asked the president, is he saying to the protesters in Syria that if they meet the five criteria he laid out last night -

SAWYER: Are you saying to them, we will be there for you as we were there in Libya?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm not saying that. What I am saying is that those are the criteria that I consider in making a very difficult decision about whether to apply military force. I don't know if those circumstances could be duplicated anyplace else. Those are the kinds of criteria that I examine, but I'm not going to start - right as we're in a very complex operation in Libya, start projecting out about all the other countries in which this would apply.

SAWYER: Even if these paper criteria are met?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I said, Diane, I think in each situation I've got to examine how does this measure up in terms of our interests, the international community's interest, what exactly would any military intervention accomplish, understanding that there's significant costs and risks involved in that and understanding that our military is already very overstretched.

SAWYER: [voiceover] What about the famous quote from another beleaguered president, Abraham Lincoln who said he had been driven many times to his knees because his own wisdom and that around him was -

SAWYER: - insufficient for the day.

THE PRESIDENT: I do a lot of praying. Absolutely. Every night, right before I go to bed, I am praying that I'm making the best possible decisions and that I've got the strength to serve the American people well. I think on Libya we've gotten it right. That doesn't make it easy. It just means that we made the right decision for that moment.

SAWYER: Just a final question. How much do you think Kentucky will win by?

THE PRESIDENT: Diane, I will make this point. You know, a lot of folks focused on the fact that I've filled down my bracket. Obviously I hadn't been spending that much time studying it since I don't have anybody in the final four. Congratulations to Kentucky.

[end videotape]

Barack Obama, Interview With Diane Sawyer on ABC "World News Tonight" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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