U.S. President Barack Obama said on Sunday that he did not believe Israel was preparing to attack Iran to disrupt its nuclear programme and that diplomacy remained the “preferred solution” to resolving the standoff over what Western leaders believe is Tehran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

In an interview with Matt Lauer of NBC, broadcast before the Super Bowl on Sunday night, the President also said administration officials “don't see any evidence” that Iran had the “intentions or capabilities” to mount an attack on U.S. soil in retaliation for a strike on its nuclear facilities.

Second term

Asked by Mr. Lauer if he deserved a second term, Mr. Obama said he did, despite the slow economic recovery.

“I deserve a second term, but we're not done,” said Mr. Obama. “We've made progress, and the thing right now is to just make sure we don't start turning in a new direction that could throw that progress off.”

Much of the interview, however, focused on the issue of Iran.

Mr. Obama's remarks appeared to be intended to ratchet down emotions after a series of reports and public statements about possible attacks on Iran or from Iran. Defence Secretary Leon E. Panetta, for instance, did not dispute a report last week by David Ignatius of The Washington Post that Mr. Panetta believed Israel might strike Iran this spring.

But on Sunday, Mr. Obama said, “I don't think that Israel has made a decision on what they need to do.

“I think they, like us, believe that Iran has to stand down on its nuclear weapons programme,” he said in the interview, broadcast from the White House. “Until they do, I think Israel rightly is going to be very concerned, and we are as well.”

His remarks about a lack of evidence suggesting Iran was planning attacks in the United States, meanwhile, followed a statement on Tuesday by the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., who said in testimony to the Senate that the apparent plot to kill the Saudi Arabian envoy in Washington showed that Iranian leaders “are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime”.

Mr. Obama noted that his administration had worked to escalate sanctions against Iran.

In keeping with longstanding U.S. policy, Mr. Obama did not rule out military action by the United States if diplomacy failed and if Iran moved close to building a nuclear bomb. “We're not taking any options off the table,” he said. “I've been very clear that we're going to do everything we can to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and creating an arms race, a nuclear arms race, in a volatile region.”

He declined to describe conversations between U.S. and Israeli officials, but said that “we are going to make sure we work in lock step and work to resolve this, hopefully diplomatically”. — New York Times News Service

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