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Obama Responds to Criticism of US Foreign Policy

President Barack Obama in the White House briefing room, Dec. 8, 2011.

President Barack Obama in the White House briefing room, Dec. 8, 2011.

In an impromptu White House news conference Thursday, President Barack Obama issued a strong response to an assertion by a Republican presidential hopeful that he has engaged in appeasement in his foreign policy and counterterrorism strategies.

President Obama addressed several issues during a nearly 20-minute appearance that began with his sharp criticism of Senate Republicans who blocked a vote on his nominee to head a new consumer financial protection bureau.

But while reporter's questions focused on that issue, the president was also asked about criticism by Republican presidential candidates of his foreign policy, U.S. pressure on Iran, and the eurozone debt crisis.

On Wednesday, six Republican candidates criticized the Obama administration's foreign and Mideast policies in appearances before the Republican Jewish Coalition. They asserted that Mr. Obama has been too tough on Israel and not tough enough on Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

One Republican presidential hopeful in particular, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, repeated a charge he has made frequently that Mr. Obama has adopted an "appeasement strategy."

The president responded by saying “Ask Osama bin Laden, and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaida leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement, or whoever is left out there. Ask them about that."

Mr. Obama was also asked about his thinking about Iran, which has been subjected to additional sanctions for continuing what Western nations say is a nuclear weapons program.

Asked about what one reporter called "sharper language" by the Obama administration on Iran, the president repeated that he is considering "all options," although he declined to give specifics.

Referring to what he called "political noise", a reference to criticism by Republican presidential contenders, Mr. Obama said his administration had "systematically imposed" the toughest sanctions on Iran's government, which have united the world and isolated Iran.

Mr. Obama said Tehran has a clear choice - to end its pursuit of atomic weapons in favor of a peaceful nuclear program or continue to resist global pressure and face increased isolation.

"If they are pursuing nuclear weapons, then I have said very clearly that is contrary to the national security interests of the United States," said Obama. "It is contrary to the national security interests of our allies, including Israel, and we are going to work with the world community to prevent that."

On the European debt crisis, Mr. Obama said he remains "very concerned," saying that he believes European leaders recognize the urgency of "doing something serious and bold." The question, he said, remains "whether they can muster the political will to get it done."

Mr. Obama's last telephone conversation with European leaders on the debt crisis was with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A White House statement said they agreed on the need for a "lasting and credible solution" to the crisis.