Obama: Iran Policy Critics Talking With ‘Bluster’

Photographer: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images

President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on March 5, 2012. Close

President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on March 5, 2012.

Photographer: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images

President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on March 5, 2012.

President Barack Obama said Republican presidential hopefuls who’ve criticized his approach on Iran are talking with “a lot of bluster” without having the responsibilities of commander in chief.

If they believe the U.S. should take military action against Iran, “they should say so,” Obama said in response to a question at a White House news conference. Otherwise, he said, their criticism is “more about politics” than substance.

“These folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities,” he said of the candidates, without naming them. He said he was struck by the “casualness” of the way his political opponents talk about war. “I’m reminded of the costs involved in war.”

Obama spoke the same day that the Republican candidates are competing in nominating contests in 11 states. The three leading contenders, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, addressed the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where they accused Obama of not taking strong enough steps to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Obama said the steps he’s taken to isolate Iran, hobble its economy and bring international pressure on the government in Tehran is the right course. He repeated a statement he made at the start of a meeting yesterday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S. wants to give ever-tightening sanctions more time to work in the standoff with Iran and there is a “window of opportunity” for a diplomatic solution. He also said the U.S. “will not countenance Iran getting a nuclear weapon.”

Republican Critics

At the meeting of Aipac, a pro-Israel lobbying group, Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said he would “bring the current policy of procrastination to an end.”

“Hope is not a foreign policy,” Romney said via a satellite link. “The only thing respected by thugs and tyrants is our resolve.”

Former House Speaker Gingrich, also addressing the crowd by satellite, said that in his administration, “we would not keep talking while the Iranians keep building.”

Obama addressed the conference March 4, saying U.S. support for Israel is unshakable and that he won’t hesitate to use military force if necessary.

He said today he’s reminded of the cost of taking military action when he visits wounded service members or signs letters to the families of military personnel killed in action.

Paying the Price

“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,” Obama said.

Sanctions “are starting to have significant effect inside Iran” and will get tougher in the coming months, Obama said.

In response to an overture from Iran last month, the European Union today offered to restart negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, seeking a “full settlement” of the clash that has pushed up oil prices and raised the specter of war in the Middle East.

In a statement on behalf of China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S., EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton urged Saeed Jalili, Iran’s nuclear envoy, to meet seek an accord in which Iran would renounce the pursuit of weapons while retaining the right to nuclear energy.

Obama met at the White House yesterday with Netanyahu for talks dominated by the threat posed by Iran.

The prime minister said at the start of his meeting with Obama that Israel must remain “the master of its fate” in deciding whether a military strike is necessary to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.

Netanyahu met with congressional leaders today before leaving the U.S.

To contact the reporters on this story: Margaret Talev in Washington at mtalev@bloomberg.net; Kate Andersen Brower in Washington at kandersen7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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