Obama News Conference Focuses On Foreign Policy

President Obama held a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, his first since November. While the president opened by announcing yet another initiative to help homeowners through the on going foreclosure crisis, nearly all of the questions involved foreign policy. His answers took aim at his Republican challengers: "This is not a game," he said.

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President Obama today accused his Republican rivals of playing politics with their tough talk about Iran. Mr. Obama warned against casual threats of a military strike, and he addressed many other topics in a wide-ranging White House news conference, including rising gas prices, efforts to help homeowners and the flap over Rush Limbaugh's verbal attack on a Georgetown law student. NPR's Scott Horsley has more from the White House.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Iran and Israel dominated the news conference. President Obama argues there's still an opportunity to talk Iran out of developing a nuclear weapon by giving sanctions and diplomacy more time to work. He said there's no rush to turn to a military strike in a matter of weeks or months.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Those who are suggesting or proposing or beating the drums of war should explain clearly to the American people what they think the costs and benefits would be. I'm not one of those people.

HORSLEY: Republican rivals Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have all called for a tougher approach to Iran. All three addressed the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC today. None of the three

rivals Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have all called for a tougher approach to Iran. All three addressed the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC today. None of the three has personal military experience. And Mr. Obama suggested it's easier for them to talk tough on the campaign trail than to act as commander in chief. The president has said he will use military force if necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, but he adds it's not a choice to make lightly.

He says every time he visits the wounded at Walter Reed or writes a condolence letter to a family who's lost a loved one, he's reminded of the high cost of war.

OBAMA: Sometimes we bear that cost, but we think it through. We don't play politics with it. When we have in the past, when we haven't thought it through and it gets wrapped up in politics, we make mistakes. And typically, it's not the folks who are popping off who pay the price. It's these incredible men and women in uniform and their families who pay the price.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama cautioned earlier this week that loose talk of war is actually helping the Iranian government economically by driving up the price of oil. During his news conference, he dismissed suggestions made by some Republicans that he actually wants higher oil and gasoline prices to encourage alternative energy.

OBAMA: I want gas prices lower because they hurt families, because I meet folks every day who have to drive a long way to get to work and them filling up this gas tank gets more and more painful, and it's a tax out of their pocketbooks, out of their paychecks.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama argues there's not much the government can do in the short run to lower gasoline prices, but there are other ways for Washington to encourage the slow economic recovery. He announced he's cutting the cost of refinancing loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration. The White House says that could help two to three million families save an extra thousand dollars a year.

OBAMA: It's like another tax cut that will put more money in people's pockets.

HORSLEY: Modest improvements in the economy have helped to boost Mr. Obama's approval ratings to about 50 percent in recent polls. His campaign is now trying to put Republicans on the defensive over conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh's attacks last week on a Georgetown law student. Limbaugh has since apologized for calling the young woman a prostitute and a slut after she spoke up in favor of the president's controversial policy on birth control. Mr. Obama said he wants his own daughters to feel free to participate in public debates without being subject to that kind of attack. He also said it's up to women voters to decide which party is better addressing their concerns.

OBAMA: One of the things I've learned being married to Michelle is I don't need to tell her what it is that she thinks is important.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama stopped short of endorsing the Democratic charge that Republicans have engaged in a war on women. He suggested the best way to promote civility is to practice it, and he merely smiled when asked about Mitt Romney's charge that he's the most feckless president since Jimmy Carter.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: What would you like to say to Mr. Romney?

OBAMA: Good luck tonight.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORSLEY: In politics, as in foreign policy, Mr. Obama can wait to bring out the big guns. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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