Obama and King Abdullah Press Conference - Page 3 of 6

Obama and King Abdullah Press Conference

My hope would be that over the next several months, that you start seeing gestures of good faith on all sides. I don’t want to get into the details of what those gestures might be, but I think that the parties in the region probably have a pretty good recognition of what intermediate steps could be taken as confidence-building measures. And we will be doing everything we can to encourage those confidence-building measures to take place.

Q Can I follow up on this one, please?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay, I actually have a list, guys, I’m sorry. (Laughter.) We’ve got to be fair. Jennifer, you always get a question, so you’re not getting one.

Steve Collinson, AFP. Go ahead, Steve.

Q What are your — what is your comment on the rhetoric yesterday from the Iranian President directed towards Israel? And given that kind of talk and the recent imprisonment of the U.S.-Iranian journalist, do you think that will make it more difficult for you to push forward your diplomatic outreach to Iran?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, sadly, the rhetoric is not new. This is the kind of rhetoric that we’ve come to expect from President Ahmadinejad. When I said, during the course of the campaign and repeated after the election, that we were serious about engagement with Iran, it was with no illusions. I was very clear that I found many of the statements that President Ahmadinejad made, particularly those direct with — directed at Israel, to be appalling and objectionable.

As I’ve also said before, Iran is a very complicated country with a lot of different power centers. The Supreme Leader Khamenei is the person who exercises the most direct control over the policies of the Islamic Republic, and we will continue to pursue the possibility of improved relations and a resolution to some of the critical issues in which there have been differences, particularly around the nuclear issue.

But there’s no doubt that the kind of rhetoric you saw from Ahmadinejad is not helpful; in fact, it is harmful — but not just with respect to the possibility of U.S.-Iranian relations, but I think it actually undermines Iranians’ position in the world as a whole. We weren’t at the conference, and what you saw was a whole host of other countries walking out and that language being condoned by people who may be more sympathetic to the long-term aspirations of the Iranian people. So I think it actually hurts Iran’s position in the world.

But we are going to continue to take an approach that — tough, direct diplomacy has to be pursued without taking a whole host of other options off the table.

Q I just want to follow on the previous question. You sent Senator Mitchell to the region to listen. Is he done with the listening now and — because all the signals we have from the Israeli government basically that they are not in favor of the two-state solution. The opposition is strongly advocating that.