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Obama cautions against 'loose talk of war' against Iran

By Ben Feller

AP White House Correspondent

LAST UPDATED: 10:49 a.m. HST, Mar 04, 2012

WASHINGTON >> President Barack Obama said today that the United States will not hesitate to attack Iran with military force to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but he cautioned that "too much loose talk of war" recently has only helped Tehran and driven up the price of oil.

Speaking to a powerful pro-Israel lobby, Obama appealed to Israel for more time to let sanctions further isolate Iran. He sought to halt a drumbeat to war with Iran and hold off a unilateral Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

"For the sake of Israel's security, America's security and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster," Obama told thousands at the annual American-Israel Public Affairs Committee's policy conference.  "Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition that we have built."

Quoting Theodore Roosevelt, Obama said he would "speak softly, but carry a big stick" — and warned Iran not to test U.S. resolve.

Obama's widely anticipated speech came one day before he meets at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who planned to address AIPAC late Monday. Three GOP presidential candidates — Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — were scheduled to speak to the conference via satellite on Tuesday, a critical day in the campaign when 10 states vote.

To Israel and to Jewish voters in this country, Obama promoted his administration's commitment to the Mideast ally.

"You don't have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds," Obama said. He defended his record of rallying to Israel's security and political sovereignty, saying: "We have been there for Israel. Every single time."

Obama's comments were heavily laced with the politics of the campaign. He blamed distortions of his record on partisan politics.

The Israeli president, Shimon Peres, spoke before Obama and said that a nuclear Iran would be a menace to the world, not just to Israel's security.

Peres, whose country sees its existence threatened by the potential development of nuclear arms, said: "Iran is an evil, cruel, morally corrupt regime. It is based on destruction and is an affront to human dignity." He said Israel knows the horrors of war and does not seek one with Iran, "but if we are forced to fight, trust me. We shall prevail."

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. U.S, Israel and many allies see no sign of that, and Israeli leaders openly have discussed the possibility of a military strike.

"Let's begin with the truth that you all understand: No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies that Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel's destruction," Obama said.

Obama said he would use all sources of American power, but that only true resolution would come from diplomacy.

U.S. officials worry that an Israeli attack on oil-power Iran could drive up pump prices and entangle the U.S. in a new Mideast confrontation during this year's presidential election season. They want to give diplomacy and economic penalties more time to work.

The United States and Europe have pursued more severe banking and other economic penalties separately. The toughest take effect this summer  and target Iran's oil business and powerful central bank.

"I firmly believe that an opportunity remains for diplomacy — backed by pressure — to succeed," Obama insisted.

And in his greatest detail to date, Obama spelled out the consequences of a military campaign against Iran.

"I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues," Obama said. "Already, there is too much loose talk of war."

The economic implications were on Obama's mind, too, as gas prices soar to the forefront of American concern ahead of the election.

In Israel, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said American pressure would not affect Israeli thinking on how to cope with the threat.

"We are an independent sovereign state, and at the end of the day, the state of Israel will make the most correct decisions as we understand them."

Many analysts believe an Israeli attack would result in a region-wide conflict, including Iranian attacks on American troops in the Persian Gulf, and could damage the world economy by causing oil prices to skyrocket. It also remains unclear how much damage a military strike would do to Iran's nuclear program. Many of the country's nuclear facilities are buried deep underground.

The Republican presidential candidates have accused Obama of failing to slow down Iran's nuclear pursuit. But Obama says world is more united than ever against Iran, and he blames Republicans for trying to drive a wedge between him and Jewish voters.

"You've had no evidence that the president is prepared to take steps to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. They talk and the Iranians build. They talk and the Iranians build," said GOP candidate Newt Gingrich said before Obama's speech. "We're being played for fools."

The Iranian threat all but shoved aside the quest for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the dominant theme of Obama's speech to AIPAC last year, and the thrust of his Israeli policy focus to date. Peace talks between the two sides have stalled. Today, Obama offered no new path, calling for the two sides to work toward separate states in peace.

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1local wrote:
Israel has the capability of taking Iran out in a week - they did it before and can do it again. Obama hasn't done anything to Iran - China and India are laughing at Obama and buying all of Iran's Oil - Europe and USA citizens are suffering because of Obamas lack of effectiveness and selfish political agenda. If and when Israel rains fire on Iran the USA will realize how effective a military leader the USA posesses...
on March 4,2012 | 07:07AM
Halemaumau wrote:
Take out Iran in a week, are you kidding me! Their almighty "defense" posture is this way because they're surrounded by religious fanatics on all sides. Granted, their 6 Day war with neighboring Arabs was a success they couldn't be in the position they're in today without US aid. The US is treading lightly on this issue because it doesn't want to further anger the Arabs which are nearly all Muslim and anti West. If you suggest Obummer is a powerful military leader I'd have to disagree. With every bomb we drop comes an apology? Obummer doesn't even have the balls to shut down Islamic training camps in America's back yard. Why are these communities left to flourish in the US? Perfect examples on why Obummer is NOT our savior against tyranny.
on March 4,2012 | 07:55AM
The_Dude_Abides wrote:
Let the Jews fight their own wars.
on March 4,2012 | 07:58AM
HD36 wrote:
You don't get elected in this country unless you bow down and support Israel. The Jewish political lobby controls the mass media. Why should they spend their money and people when they have all the dumb Americans who spend more on military than all other countries in the world combined. Still haven't found any weapons of mass destruction.
on March 4,2012 | 10:16AM
entrkn wrote:
President Obama is masterfully piloting our ship through treacherous waters with precision...
on March 4,2012 | 09:40AM
LanaUlulani wrote:

Obama the Hawaiian Wanna Be is the very one talking about waging war against Iran. What a hypocrit.

on March 4,2012 | 10:33AM
nomakeshame wrote:
I would seriously ask you to take your blinders off and re-read the article. Obama said war is the last resort, if we were pushed into that corner, Newt and the Republicans candidates are pushing for war before talks. Blaming Obama for not doing anything about Iran, good one. Let us start with Reagan(R), Reagan(R), Bush(R), Clinton(D), Bush II(R), Bush II(R), and finally Obama(D). Gee, it looks like none of Obama's predecessors did anything about Iran either. Oops, my bad, Bush II went after the wrong country, and Reagan, cannot forget Reagan and the Iran-Contra affair. Same with the North Korean issue, no President, past or present, (well, maybe one former one might) will risk the lives of 30,000 U.S. troops because of "saber-rattling".
on March 4,2012 | 11:25AM
HD36 wrote:
As long as Iran doesn't threaten the United States we can't spend another trillion dollars that we don't have going into another war that benefits Irael and the Jewish lobbiest.
on March 4,2012 | 10:50AM
nomakeshame wrote:
We may not have a choice in this matter, because if Israel acts on its own, Iran will assuredly test the willpower of the United States to support its "ally". Saddam Hussein did just that in the first Gulf War, Israel stayed on the sidelines, but yet they got their share of SCUD missiles because of their "alliance" with the United States. We had to send Patriot missiles to protect the Israelis. One would assume Iran will unleash its terrorist networks and bombs on U.S. interests in the Middle East and around the world should the Israelis attack, all because of our alliance with Israel.
on March 4,2012 | 11:31AM
Halemaumau wrote:
We could also go on the offensive and strike first... I think you'll agree that we're damned if we do, damned if we don't. Our support for Israel is to achieve a balance of power in the Middle East, without it our interests world wide is further compromised. My argument is that we indeed have a choice although I think an unpopular one.
on March 4,2012 | 12:07PM
ufried wrote:
on March 4,2012 | 12:17PM
nomakeshame wrote:
How did that pro-active thing work in Iraq? Over 4,000 U.S. lives lost, more than was lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Good or bad, the United States is a reactionary country, even in WWI and WWII, until something really bad happens directly to the United States, most citizens are against starting all out wars with other countries. It may just take another terrorist attack against the U.S. homeland to get citizens to want to fight another war, I say U.S. homeland, because throughout the 80s and 90s, there were terrorist attacks against U.S. interests abroad and the best response was Reagan sending two missiles into Libya.
on March 4,2012 | 02:20PM
HD36 wrote:
So we get attacked by Saudi Arabians, but since they supply us with all the oil, we go after Iraq, who we supplied weapons for 10 years, to fight Iran, who we supported the dictator, the Shaw, but who was overthrown by the people. Watch the towers collapse. It was a controlled demolition. Fact, the buildings were closed for 36 hrs prior to the bombings. The Jewish owner of the buildings who is always there, somehow had a doctor appointment when they were hit. Mousad Israli agents were seen celebrating when the tower was hit.
on March 4,2012 | 09:56PM
ufried wrote:
on March 4,2012 | 06:59PM
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