Fact-checking President Barack Obama's CNN appearance

President Barack Obama on CNN's "State of the Union" Dec. 21, 2014.
President Barack Obama on CNN's "State of the Union" Dec. 21, 2014.

President Barack Obama took on critics of his foreign policy Sunday in a year-end interview with CNN, defending decisions to better relations with Cuba and Iran while arguing that "shooting first and thinking about it second" does not project strength.

Obama told CNN’s Candy Crowley that normalizing relations with Cuba is "an opportunity to try something different," and reaffirmed his wish to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

"I’m going to be doing everything I can to close it," Obama said. "It is something that continues to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world, the fact that these folks are being held. It is contrary to our values, and it is wildly expensive. We’re spending millions for each individual there."

On Guantanamo’s price tag per prisoner, Obama is right. His claim that taxpayers are spending millions of dollars for each detainee rates True.

The United States established a detention camp on the 45-acre naval base on Cuba’s southeast coast in 2002 to hold suspects in the war on terror. More than 750 prisoners have been detained in total over the past 13 years, and about 2,100 people work there.

For fiscal year 2014, the total cost of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is an estimated $443 million, according to a Pentagon report drafted for the Senate Armed Services Committee. This includes money spent on maintenance, personnel, contracted work, military commissions and Department of Defense-funded studies.

Spread out among 132 prisoners currently detained, that’s about $3.6 million per detainee. In 2013, with a similar-size budget but more detainees, the cost worked out to about $2.7 million per detainee.

For comparison, inmates at high-security federal prisons cost about $34,000 per year on average, as of 2012.

In the same interview, Obama said he has been "consistent in saying that where we can solve problems diplomatically, we should do so." He used negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program as an example.

"Over the last year and a half, since we began negotiations with them, that's probably the first year and a half in which Iran has not advanced its nuclear program in the last decade," Obama said.

"That's not just verified by the United Nations and the … IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and ourselves, even critics of our policy like the Netanyahu government in Israel, their intelligence folks have acknowledged that, in fact, Iran has not made progress," Obama said.

Obama’s description of the negotiations between the United States, Iran and other United Nations countries is largely accurate. It rates Mostly True.

In November 2013 the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany, and Iran signed an agreement that temporarily stopped or rolled back Iran’s production of potentially weapons grade nuclear material. In November 2014, that agreement was extended by four months, with some additional restrictions on Iran. In exchange, Iran has been able to sell more of its oil and gain access to millions of dollars that had been frozen in overseas bank accounts.

The agreement has three main points, all of which Iran has met, the IAEA says. Iran has ceased production and accumulation of high-enriched uranium, stopped the installation of additional centrifuge machines at Iran’s two enrichment facilities and stopped construction of a heavy water reactor in Arak.

But experts we talked to said it’s important to note that while Iran is not producing high-enriched uranium necessary to build a nuclear weapon, it continues to produce missiles to potentially carry a nuclear warhead.

"Iran's missile production continues, and we are uncertain about the nuclear weapons design work, although many experts believe that continues as well," said Matthew Kroenig, a professor of international relations at Georgetown University.