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Obama Counters Republican Strategies On Iran


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

President Obama made a challenge to Republican critics of his policy on Iran. The president spoke with reporters yesterday and some of the highest drama came when he accused Republicans of, quote, popping off and beating the drums of war. Republicans have been pressing the president to impose tighter sanctions and threaten war over Iran's nuclear program, to check the evil regimes of the ayatollahs, as Mitt Romney put it in an article this week.

The president says he's already doing those things and says if his critics actually want to go to war, they should openly make a case for it.

Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama says there's still a window of opportunity to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon without resorting to military force. The U.S. and other world powers have agreed to resume talks with Tehran. Mr. Obama called for more time to let sanctions and negotiation work.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is deeply in everybody's interests - the United States, Israel, and the world's - to see if this can be resolved in a peaceful fashion.

HORSLEY: Israel has been growing impatient with that process and three of Mr. Obama's Republican rivals seized on that yesterday, in addressing the staunchly pro-Israel AIPAC lobby. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich all called for a more hawkish approach to Iran's nuclear program. Romney said he'd park U.S. aircraft carriers and warships at Iran's back door.

MITT ROMNEY: Hope is not a foreign policy. The only thing respected by thugs and tyrants is our resolve, backed by our power and our readiness to use it.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama countered that his administration is already pursuing many of the get-tough policies proposed by the Republicans.

OBAMA: The one thing we have not done is we haven't launched a war. If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk.

HORSLEY: Earlier this week, Mr. Obama warned saber-ratting over Iran's nuclear program is driving up the price of oil. During his news conference he said he'd like to see lower oil and gasoline prices but acknowledged there's no silver bullet to make that happen.

OBAMA: We go through this every year. We've gone through this for 30 years. And, you know, if we are going to be competitive, successful, and make sure families are protected over the long term, then we've got to make sure that we've got a set of options that reduce our overall dependence on oil.

HORSLEY: The president noted U.S. dependence on foreign oil has been shrinking as domestic production ramps up.

Mr. Obama was also asked about Rush Limbaugh's attack on a Georgetown law student who'd spoken up in support of the president's policy to make birth control more affordable and available. Mr. Obama telephoned the young woman to offer his own support after she was branded a slut by the conservative talk radio host. The president said he was thinking of his own daughters.

OBAMA: One of the things I want them to do, as they get older, is to engage in issues they care about. Even ones I may not agree with them on. I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way. And I don't want them attacked or called horrible names because they're being good citizens.

HORSLEY: Democrats have been using the episode to reach out to women voters. Mr. Obama said women won't be swayed by a single issue like birth control but will make up their own minds about what's important to them.

Latino voters could also play a key role in November, and some have been frustrated by the lack of movement on immigration law. Mr. Obama conceded he's been unsuccessful in that area. He blamed Republicans for backing away from reforms that used to enjoy bipartisan support.

OBAMA: I give a lot of credit to my predecessor, George Bush, and his political advisors who said, you know, this should not be just something that Democrats support. The Republican Party is invested in this as well. That was good advice then. It would be good advice now.

HORSLEY: So far this election season, Republicans have made little effort to tailor their immigration policies to court Latinos. Mr. Obama suggested that could change, depending on the message Latino voters send in November.

Scott Horsley, NPR news, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.