President Barack Obama declared today that diplomacy can still resolve the crisis over Iran’s possible pursuit of nuclear weapons, and he accused his Republican critics of “beating the drums of war”.
“Those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities,” Obama said. “They are not commander in chief.”
Tension with Iran, and Obama’s preference for restraint, dominated his first full news conference of the year, held on the same day that Republican candidates for his job were contesting primary elections and caucuses in 10 states.
He called violence in Syria “heartbreaking” but showed no new willingness for military involvement in that Mideast country.
On Syria, Obama said unilateral military action by the United States against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad would be a mistake. He rejected a comparison to Libya, where the United States and allies did intervene last year.
Syria, he said, is more complicated. Russia has blocked a UN Security Council resolution against Assad’s government, and Assad’s military is better equipped and more powerful than the Libyan force.
Obama has resisted calls to get drawn into the turmoil in Syria to stop Assad’s bloody crackdown on protesters. More than 7,500 people have been killed there.
The preferred US strategy has been to use sanctions and international diplomatic isolation to pressure Assad into handing over power.
Obama said his critics are forgetting the “cost of war” in their rush to punish Iran and defend Israel, which sees a nuclear Iran as a mortal threat in its Mideast neighbourhood.
Rhetoric on the right is “more about politics than about trying to solve a difficult problem,” Obama said at the White House.
He said he is focused on “crippling sanctions” already imposed on Iran and on international pressure to keep that nation from developing a nuclear weapon.
Obama said his private meetings with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week carried the same message as his public pronouncements. And he implied that Israeli pressure for urgent action was not supported by the facts, saying that a decision was not necessary within the next weeks or months.
He added that Iranians need to show how serious they are about resolving the crisis. He said there are steps the Iranians can take “that are verifiable” and will allow it to be “in compliance with international norms and mandates.”
Obama said the furore in Afghanistan over the accidental burning of Korans underscores the need for the US to make the transition out of the war there.
He emphasised that the US still plans to end its combat role in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.