President Barack Obama, ahead of the GOP primary's Super Tuesday contest, held his first news conference of 2012.
During a wide-ranging 45-minute interview with the White House press corps, Obama discussed Iran's nuclear ambitions, war in the Middle East, high gas prices, immigration and his Republican rivals.
Obama responded to criticism from Mitt Romney that a second term would ensure that Iran obtains a nuclear weapon by hitting Republicans who are casual about engaging in war with another Middle Eastern country.
This is not a game and there's nothing casual about it, Obama said. When I see some of these folks, who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, and you ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things we've been doing over the last three years. That indicates to me it's about politics than solving a difficult problem.
He asked Republicans who are banging the war drums to explain the benefits and costs of military action to the American people.
Everything else, he said, is just talk.
The president touted his administration's policy of crippling sanctions against Iran and building an international coalition to pressure Iran to drop any effort to get a nuclear weapon. He said the policy has already coaxed Iranian officials back to the negotiating table, giving the U.S. a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically.
That is a view from U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials, according to the president.
Iran is feeling the bite of these sanctions in a substantial way, Obama said. The world is unified, Iran is politically isolated.
He also stressed that it is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, not containment.
On intervention in Syria, Obama said the situation there is much more complicated than in Libya. He was responding to Sen. John McCain, his 2008 Republican rival who said the U.S. must lead airstrikes to stop the Syrian regime's violent crackdown on protesters.
Following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama said being a friend to Israel means offering unvarnished advice when it comes to the country launching an offensive against the Iran.
He said sanctions aer beginning to work, noting he impact they have had on Iran's central bank and oil industry.
It is deeply in everybody's interests -- the United States, Israel and the world - to see if this can be resolved in a peaceful fashion, Obama said.
On Republican claims that Obama wants gas prices to remain high, the president suggested that such a position is political suicide in an election year.
Is there anyone here who thinks that makes a lot of sense, the president said. I want gas prices lower because they hurt families... it's a tax out of their pocketbooks, out of their paychecks.
On solving the problem of high gas prices, Obama said there's no silver bullet.
He said oil production should continue to increase, beef up vehicles' fuel efficiency standards and develop clean energy.
Rush Limbaugh and the Women Vote
Obama refused to comment on Rush Limbaugh's apology to a Georgetown Law student he called a slut and a prostitute for testifying before Congress on insurance coverage of contraception.
But the president explained that he personally called the woman, 30-year-old Sandra Fluke, because of his daughters Sasha and Malia.
One of the things I want them to do when they get older is engage in issues they care about, even ones I may not agree with them on, he said. I want them 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.
When asked about Democrats' efforts to make inroads with women voters who support a requirement that insurance plans cover contraception, Obama said women are not single-issue voters.
Still, he said the Democrats will be more appealing to women on solidifying the middle class and growing the economy.
I think we got a strong story to tell when it comes to women, Obama said.
Obama stressed his desire to see immigration reform tackled in a bipartisan manner that protects the borders and gives undocumented residents a pathway to citizenship.
But he said Republicans need to be willing to pass immigration reform after the administration introduces a framework, a proposal... that can move the ball forward.
But ultimately, I can't vote for Republicans. They're going to have to come to the conclusion that this is good for the country.
He said credit was due for President George W. Bush and his political advisors who wanted Republicans to take a lead in immigration reform rather than leave it all to the Democrats.
That was good advice then, and it's good advice now, Obama said.
In responding to Romney's comments that Obama is the most feckless president since Jimmy Carter, Obama had some advice for the former Massachusetts governor ahead of the vote on Super Tuesday.
Good luck, the president said. Really.