Page last updated at 15:44 GMT, Sunday, 11 January 2009

Obama promises new tack on Iran

Barack Obama: 'We are going to take a new approach' - courtesy: This Week, ABC

President-elect Barack Obama says the US will take a new approach to dealings with Iran under his leadership.

Mr Obama said in a US TV interview screened on Sunday that "Iran is going to be one of our biggest challenges".

He said he was concerned about Iran's support for Lebanese Shia party Hezbollah and Tehran's nuclear enrichment programme.

In the wide-ranging interview, Mr Obama also said he planned a special team to deal with conflict in the Middle East.

The president-elect said he was not ruling out prosecution for possible crimes committed by Bush administration officials.

And he repeated his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, but suggested it might not happen within his first 100 days in office.

'Need for engagement'

Mr Obama also criticised the outgoing administration's handling of the $700bn (459bn) federal bailout plan to help the US banking system amid the global financial crisis.

And he said his attorney general could investigate accusations Bush administration officials had abused their power.

I am putting together the team so that starting on day one, we have the best possible people who are going to be immediately engaged in the Middle East peace process
Barack Obama

He said: "He's going to be making some calls, but my general belief is that when it comes to national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past."

The incoming president told ABC's This Week presenter George Stephanopoulos he would break away from President George W Bush's policy on Iran and seek a much broader approach with the Islamic state.

"We are going to have to take a new approach. And I've outlined my belief that engagement is the place to start," Mr Obama said.

Mr Obama, who won the US presidential election in November, takes office on 20 January.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits Natanz uranium enrichment facility, Iran (04/08)
Iran's nuclear programme is causing concern in the West

In the interview, he promised "a new emphasis on respect and a new emphasis on being willing to talk, but also a clarity about what our bottom lines are."

He added he believed his administration would "move swiftly" in its new approach with Tehran.

Mr Obama had earlier said there should be no pre-conditions in discussions with the Iranian leadership.

The Bush administration had accused Iran of developing nuclear technology in order to produce nuclear weapons, but Iran has insisted the processes will only be used to generate electricity.

'Failure of supervision'

"Iran is going to be one of our biggest challenges and as I said during the campaign we have a situation in which not only is Iran exporting terrorism through Hamas, through Hezbollah but they are pursuing a nuclear weapon that could potentially trigger a nuclear arms race," Mr Obama said.

Mr Obama also said a new team would begin work on a wider Middle East peace process when he began his presidency.

"What I am doing right now is putting together the team so that on 20 January, starting on day one, we have the best possible people who are going to be immediately engaged in the Middle East peace process as a whole," Mr Obama said.

On the economy, Mr Obama said he was dissatisfied with the way the first $350bn (229bn) in the Troubled Asset Relief Program (Tarp) had been spent after it was approved by Congress last year.

"There hasn't been enough oversight," Mr Obama said. "We found out this week in a report that we are not tracking where this money is going."

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