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CBS's Smith: Reaganesque Statement On Iran Not 'Realistic'

On CBS's Early Show Wednesday, Mitt Romney described President Obama's latest statement on Iran as "not exactly a Ronald Reagan 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall' moment." Co-host Harry Smith got defensive: "Alright, very different circumstances that have been trotted out by Republicans for the last five or six days now. That was a crumbling regime in its last legs. Let's talk about this in realistic terms."

Romney stood by his observation, telling Smith: "Well, in realistic terms, the President should have spoken from the very beginning, expressing the fact that we will always stand with forces of freedom throughout the world and that we will oppose tyranny... it's very different to speak truth, than to meddle in their affairs...I think we should be asking other voices in the Middle East to have similar comments, to make sure that people understand that this is not a legitimate regime, that it's a sham democracy."

Preceding Smith's interview with Romney, correspondent Bill Plante reported on the Tuesday press conference in which Obama made his latest Iran comments. Plante tried to portray the President's statement as a hard line: "The Republicans have been slamming the President on those two fronts, Iran and health care, trying to force him on the defensive. And at Tuesday's news conference, Mr. Obama did take off the gloves in his criticism of Iran's government...The President declared himself 'appalled and outraged' by the crackdown in Iran. A dramatic change from his careful comment to Harry Smith last Friday."

Smith later asked Romney about the President's healthcare proposal as well: " Let's talk about health care. You addressed that in no uncertain terms while you were governor of Massachusetts. If there was one thing, if you had the President's ear, you said 'one thing you don't want to do here,' what would it be?" Romney argued: "We did not have a government plan where people bought government insurance. That's a mistake. Going down that road would mean down the road hundreds of billions of dollars of additional cost. It does not make sense to get government into the insurance business."

Responding to Romney's opposition to the plan, Smith countered: "Yeah, the question then becomes how do you - how do you insure the 45 or 50 million Americans who are not on the books." Romney reiterated: "We let people buy their own private insurance...you don't set up a government insurance plan because it's going to end up costing billions of dollars in subsidy. It's the wrong way to go."

Here is the full transcript of the June 24 segment:

7:00AM TEASE:

HARRY SMITH: President Obama on the offensive, making his toughest comments yet about Iran.

BARACK OBAMA: No iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests.

SMITH: But is this President taking on too much to succeed? We'll talk to Mitt Romney.

7:05AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: In his first daytime news conference, President Obama defended his health care plan and spoke out forcefully about Iran. CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante has more on that. Good morning, Bill.

BILL PLANTE: Good morning to you, Harry. The Republicans have been slamming the President on those two fronts, Iran and health care, trying to force him on the defensive. And at Tuesday's news conference, Mr. Obama did take off the gloves in his criticism of Iran's government.

BARACK OBAMA: In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests of justice.

PLANTE: The President declared himself 'appalled and outraged' by the crackdown in Iran. A dramatic change from his careful comment to Harry Smith last Friday.

OBAMA: The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States.

PLANTE: As for health care, Mr. Obama insisted, again, that Americans won't be forced to switch plans or doctors.

OBAMA: What I'm saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform.

PLANTE: The President still gets a solid 63% approval rating in the latest CBS News/New York Times poll. But when it comes to health care, only 44% of those polled support his plan for a public option, with 22% unsure. That public uncertainty makes it even more likely that there'll be a very difficult battle in Congress and that the President will have to use even more of his own personal political capital. And what he said yesterday about Iran applies to health care as well. 'We don't know,' he said, 'how this is going to turn out.' Harry.

SMITH: Bill Plante at the White House this morning, thank you. Joining us now from Salt Lake City for an exclusive interview is former Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney. Good morning, sir.

MITT ROMNEY: Good morning, Harry.

SMITH: We've heard much stronger language from President Obama yesterday. Beyond language though, is there anything, really anything, this administration can do beyond just condemning the behavior of the regime?

ROMNEY: Well, I'm glad the final - the President finally did rise to the occasion here. It was not exactly a Ronald Reagan 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall' moment.

SMITH: Alright, very different circumstances that have been trotted out by Republicans for the last five or six days now. That was a crumbling regime in its last legs. Let's talk about this in realistic terms.

ROMNEY: Well, in realistic terms, the President should have spoken from the very beginning, expressing the fact that we will always stand with forces of freedom throughout the world and that we will oppose tyranny. That being said, I'm very pleased that the President did, finally, do just about that. He broadcast his remarks into the Iranian world through - in Farsi. So he is getting that message out. And it's very different to speak truth, than to meddle in their affairs and I'm glad the President has made that move. And at the same time, I think we should be asking other voices in the Middle East to have similar comments, to make sure that people understand that this is not a legitimate regime, that it's a sham democracy.

SMITH: One of the things that the President said, he said 'the whole world is watching.' Is there a way to further isolate Iran? Is there a way, in terms of sanctions - give me some building blocks here that you would build a coalition in order to isolate this regime so you could actually get some behavioral change.

ROMNEY: Well, I think you've seen for some time that if we and Europe - and if we could get China and/or Russia to somehow to join with us - and to allow us to have very tough sanctions against Ahmadinejad, particularly as he pursues these terrible outrages against his own people, and as well as he pursues nuclear weaponry, then we're going to have the impact of moving Iran away from its - its nuclear ambition. That's something we've been trying to do as a nation for some time. I think the President ought to focus on getting that job done, because a nuclear Iran is simply unacceptable to the world.

SMITH: Let's talk about health care. You addressed that in no uncertain terms while you were governor of Massachusetts. If there was one thing, if you had the President's ear, you said 'one thing you don't want to do here,' what would it be?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, I'm glad you mentioned the fact that we in Massachusetts did get all of our citizens insured in a plan that is working. But one thing we did not do was put in place a government insurance program. We did not have a government plan where people bought government insurance. That's a mistake. Going down that road would mean down the road hundreds of billions of dollars of additional cost. It does not make sense to get government into the insurance business. And when the President says, 'yes, but insurance companies make profit.' There are a lot of them that are not for profit. BlueCross-BlueShield, Intermountain, and others. Don't get into the insurance business.

SMITH: Yeah, the question then becomes how do you - how do you insure the 45 or 50 million Americans who are not on the books.

ROMNEY: Well, that's what we did in Massachusetts. And that is we put together an exchange and the President's copying that idea. I'm glad to hear that. We let people buy their own private insurance. Most people can afford to buy that insurance once you have an exchange that allows them to do that on a cost effective basis. And then for those that are low income, you help them buy their own private insurance. But you don't set up a government insurance plan because it's going to end up costing billions of dollars in subsidy. It's the wrong way to go.

SMITH: Governor Romney, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. Good to see you, sir.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Harry. Good to be with you.

SMITH: You bet.

- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.