Israel is right to be concerned about Iran's push to join the league of nations that possess nuclear weapons, but diplomacy - not military intervention - remains the "preferred solution" to averting a potential arms race in the Middle East, President Barack Obama said Sunday.
During a live interview with TODAY's Matt Lauer, the president left the military option open if there's evidence that economic sanctions and diplomatic efforts fail to convince the Iranian regime to give up its nuclear ambitions and threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic gateway to the oil-rich Persian Gulf.
"I don't think Israel has made a decision. I think they, like us, think Iran has to stand down their nuclear weapons program," said Obama, speaking from the Blue Room of the White House. "Until they do, I think Israel is going to be very concerned, and we are as well."
Although Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said publicly that Israel could be poised to make a preventive strike against Iran as early as late spring or early summer, Obama said the U.S. has close ties to Israel and will make sure that all diplomatic efforts are exhausted.
"We are going to make sure we work in lock step and work to resolve this, hopefully diplomatically," said Obama, who spoke about Iran, the economy and the Super Bowl during the five-minute interview.
"We're not taking any options off the table," Obama said. "Our preferred solution is diplomatic, we're going to keep on pushing on that front ... [but] 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."
Obama said the international pressure on Iran through sanctions is working and Iran needs to say, "We will pursue peaceful nuclear power, we will not pursue a nuclear weapon ."
Obama: I deserve another term
During the interview, which will be broadcast in its entirety on TODAY Monday, Obama also talked about his re-election bid. He was reminded of a comment he made to Lauer three years ago, during an interview before the 2009 Super Bowl about the economic crisis, in which he said, "If I don't have this done in three years, then it's going to be a one-term proposition."
Lauer noted a new report showing U.S. unemployment has fallen below 9 percent, but many Americas still don't feel the poor economy has turned around, and asked Obama if he's made his case for re-election.
"I deserve a second term, but we're not done," Obama replied. "We've got to boost up American manufacturing, so that all our manufacturing is building again and selling overseas. We've got to make sure that we're pushing American energy ... and we've got to make sure the skills of American workers are the best in the world.
"We've made progress, and the thing right now is to just make sure we don't starting turning in a new direction that could throw that progress off."
But the president was less forceful in making a prediction on the 2012 Super Bowl. While he confidently picked Pittsburgh to beat Arizona before the 2009 Super Bowl, Obama refused to use a crystal ball on tonight's game, despite much goading from Lauer.
"You're not going to get to me," a laughing Obama told Lauer. "I say to look for a great game.
"I think this is going to be tough. I can't call it."
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Lauer asked Obama whether his female-centric household members - wife Michelle, daughters Malia and Sasha - are fans of Super Bowl quarterback Tom Brady, who leads the glamorous life as a model with wife Gisele Bundchen when he's not winning football games.
"I think they know he's a goodlooking guy, there's no doubt about it," Obama said. But he added Malia and Sasha don't decorate their White House bedrooms with his posters.
"The girls are 13 and 10; they're not quite at the age yet they start putting up the pictures of guys yet. When that happens, I may call some executive privilege and say that's not appropriate."
(Tune in to TODAY at 7 a.m. ET on Monday to see more of Matt's interview with President Obama.)
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