Obama warns over 'loose talk of war'
Washington - US President Barack Obama criticised "loose talk of war" on Sunday as he pleaded for patience in resolving the nuclear stand-off with Iran, arguing that co-ordinated international pressure would force Tehran to the negotiating table.
On the eve of White House talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama sought to reassure the powerful pro-Israel lobby by vowing to use force if necessary, but said "now is not the time for bluster".
Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington alongside Israeli President Shimon Peres, he said sanctions were working and cautioned against the sabre-rattling of recent months.
"Because of our efforts, Iran is under greater pressure than ever before," he told thousands of delegates at the AIPAC annual policy forum.
"Iran is isolated, its leadership divided and under pressure. And the Arab Spring has only increased these trends, as the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime is exposed, and its ally - the Assad regime [in Syria] - is crumbling."
"I firmly believe that an opportunity remains for diplomacy - backed by pressure - to succeed," Obama said.
"Already, there is too much loose talk of war. Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend upon to fund their nuclear programme."
US intelligence is said to believe that Iran does not currently intend to produce nuclear weapons, though it may be seeking the capacity to do so, and Washington has emphasised the importance of deterrent sanctions and diplomacy.
But Israel is reportedly eager to move more quickly and decisively against Iran's nuclear activities, using a military strike to prevent it from obtaining even the capacity to take a decision to produce nuclear weapons.
"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; now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition that we have built," Obama said.
He reaffirmed his strong backing for Israel and warned Iran's leaders that he would not hesitate to use force, if required, to stop it developing a nuclear weapon.
"Iran's leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
"And as I've made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests."
Iran insists its nuclear programme is solely for civilian energy purposes and medical research.
Experts warn that Israel fears that the US and Israeli clocks for military action may not be synchronised and that Washington might seek to delay strikes until it is too late.
Speaking before Obama, Peres said Israel "shall prevail" if forced to fight Iran, which he called "an evil, cruel and morally corrupt regime" bent on controlling the Middle East.
"Iran is the centre, the sponsor, the financer of world terror. Iran is a danger to the entire world," he said.
Stressing unity, Peres said "the United States and Israel share the same goal - to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. There is no space between us".