Obama: 'Never say never' on Iran embassy
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President Obama refused to rule out one day opening an American Embassy in Iran in an interview released Monday, but he said the nuclear issue remains an obstacle in relations with the country.

In the wake of Obama's announcement of a move to resume diplomacy with Cuba, NPR's Steve Inskeep asked him about opening an embassy in Tehran during his final two years in office.

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"I never say never, but I think these things have to go in steps," Obama said.

The U.S. and other world powers are in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. The talks were extended for the second time without a final agreement last month, while Obama faces a restless Congress pushing for more sanctions. 

"In order for us to, I think, open that aperture with respect to Iran, we have to get this nuclear issue resolved — and there's a chance to do it and the question's going to be whether or not Iran is willing to seize it," Obama said.

He pointed to a debate from his first presidential campaign, when he was criticized for being willing to talk to Iran.

"I was asked very early in my — my presidential race back in 2007 — would I meet with these various rogue regimes?  And what I said then remains true," Obama said. "If I thought it advances American interests, yes. I believe in diplomacy; I believe in dialogue; I believe in engagement."

Obama said the U.S. has told Iran it can have "a modest nuclear power program for your energy needs — that there's a way of doing that that nevertheless gives the world assurances that you don't have breakout capacity."

"And, you know, Iran suffered from a terrible war with Iraq in which millions of their countrymen were lost," he added. "They have legitimate defense concerns — but those have to be separated out from the adventurism, the support of organizations like Hezbollah, the threats they've directed towards Israel."

In addition to the opening to Cuba, Obama has been on something of a roll in recent months, boosted by an improving economy. 

Asked if Democrats' drubbing in the midterm elections freed his hand in some ways, the president said, "I don't think it's been liberating. Keep in mind that all these issues are ones that we've been working on for some time."

He did say that the improving economy has given him more room to work on other issues, rather than focusing on responding to an economic crisis. 

While he expressed hope of working with the new Republican majority in Congress in some areas, Obama admitted it was likely to produce more legislation he would reject.

"I haven't used the veto pen very often since I've been in office. Now I suspect there are going to be some times where I've got to pull that pen out," he said. "And I'm going to defend gains that we've made in healthcare; I'm going to defend gains that we've made on environment and clean air and clean water."

"The fact that we disagree on one thing shouldn't prohibit us from getting progress on the areas where there's some overlap," he added.