President Obama made an unscheduled visit to the White House press briefing room Wednesday to address the nation on a host of foreign policy crises testing his administration.
Obama’s visit was timed to coincide with the nightly newscasts and allowed the president to project the image that he is on top of a myriad of issues, including violence in the West Bank, nuclear talks with Iran and Russia’s interventions in Ukraine.
“It's clear to me that we've made real progress in several areas, and we have a credible way forward,” said Obama, who was briefed on the talks Wednesday by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Obama said Iran had “met its commitments under the interim deal we reached last year,” when Iran agreed to enter the talks and freeze its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of some sanctions.
The president said, while “some significant gaps” between the international community and Tehran remained, there was reason for optimism. He also pledged to consult with members of Congress “over the next few days.”
The White House has had to fight off calls from Republicans and Democrats in the Senate for new sanctions on Iran, which proponents argue would pressure Tehran into making additional concessions on its nuclear program.
On Ukraine, Obama announced the administration was imposing new sanctions against Russian businesses and individuals after Moscow continued to offer support to pro-Russian separatists fighting government forces in the country's eastern regions.
The penalties will target Russia's largest banks and energy companies, which will now be barred from accessing U.S. financing. The Treasury Department will also freeze the assets of several Russian defense companies.
“These sanctions are significant, but they are also targeted, designed to have the maximum impact on Russia, while limiting any spillover effects on American companies or those of our allies,” Obama said.
The president said he expected “Russian leadership will see once again that its actions in Ukraine have consequences, including a weakening Russian economy and increasing diplomatic isolation.”
Obama also offered his second statement this week on the outbreak of violence between the Israelis and Palestinians, reiterating that “Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people.”
Obama said he was “proud” that the U.S.-funded Iron Dome system had helped save Israeli lives but said he was “heartbroken” by the deaths of civilians in Gaza.
“We're going to continue to stress the need to protect civilians in Gaza and in Israel, and to avoid further escalation,” Obama said.
The president also vowed to “use all of our diplomatic resources and relationships to support efforts of closing a deal on a cease-fire.”
And the president heralded Kerry's work in Afghanistan, crediting U.S. civilian and military leaders for “helping to break the impasse over the presidential election there.”
The country's rival presidential candidates — former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah — have agreed to abide by an international supervised audit of every ballot cast, amid widespread allegations of voter fraud that prompted violent protests in the street.
“If they keep their commitments, Afghanistan will witness the first democratic transfer of power in the history of that nation,” Obama said.