U.S. President Barack Obama says the expected resumption of talks between world powers and Iran over the country's suspect nuclear program provides another "window of opportunity" for a diplomatic solution to the standoff.
"We have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically. That's not just my view. That's the view of our top intelligence officials. It's the view of top Israeli intelligence officials," he said.
"And as a consequence, we are going to continue to apply the pressure even as we provide a door for the Iranian regime to walk through where they could rejoin the community of nations by giving assurances to the international community that they're meeting their obligations and they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon."
Obama made the remarks at a White House press conference on March 6 following talks with visiting Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and an Iran-centric speech to the American Israeli Political Action Committee.
Earlier on March 6, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, agreed to a proposal from Tehran to resume talks on Iran's controversial nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at developing weapons and Iran says is peaceful.
When I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war."
Obama said the new round of negotiations, the date and venue for which have not yet been agreed, would be an indication as to whether diplomacy still has a chance.
"I don't expect a breakthrough in a first meeting," he said. "But I think we will have a pretty good sense fairly quickly as to how serious they are about resolving the issue. And there are steps that they can take that would send a signal to the international community and that are verifiable."
Obama said the talks offer Iran a diplomatic chance to defuse the crisis and quiet the "drums of war."
Obama used the press conference to reiterate the U.S. commitment to Israel, which sees an existential threat in a nuclear-armed Iran. But he also cautioned against excessive talk of military action.
That possibility was the focus of the president's meeting with Netanyahu on March 5, where the Israeli leader said his country has not made any decision on striking Iran but also gave no sign of backing away from the possibility.
Obama also responded to attacks from Republican presidential candidates who have accused him of being weak on Iran. Without mentioning names, he declared, “This is not a game." He added, "When I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war."
On Syria, he took issue with recent calls by senior U.S. senators -- John McCain (Republican-Arizona), Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina), and Joseph Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut) -- to launch U.S. air strikes, saying it would be a "mistake" to take unilateral military action against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
"Ultimately this dictator will fall, as dictators in the past have fallen. But the notion that the way to solve every one of these problems is to deploy our military -- you know, that hasn't been true in the past, and it won't be true now," he said. "We've got to think through what we do through the lens of what's going to be effective, but also what's critical for U.S. security interests."
Obama also characterized the burning of Korans at a U.S. air base in Afghanistan last month, and the deadly violence that followed, as "an indication that now is the time for us to transition."
The United States is on track to end its combat role in Afghanistan in 2014.
Written by Richard Solash in Washington, with additional reporting by AP and AFP