WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama, appearing at the White House on Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the two agreed that if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this week determines again that Iran is continuing to ignore its international obligations, "then we will have no choice but to consider additional steps, including potentially additional sanctions, to intensify the pressure on the Iranian regime".
"We agreed that Iran's continuing nuclear program and its refusal to engage in any meaningful talks with the international community remain a very serious concern," Obama said in remarks prior to a joint press conference with Merkel.
The two leaders discussed progress in Afghanistan, "where we have broken the Taliban's momentum, trained Afghan forces and are now preparing to turn a corner in our efforts," Obama said.
"We are scheduled to begin the transition to Afghan lead, and I reiterated that we will begin reducing American forces this summer, even as we join with Germany and our NATO allies in supporting Afghans in their political and economic efforts to forge a lasting peace," he said.
Merkel said she and Obama "share the opinion that in Afghanistan, we wish to approach the matters in a sense of an integrated security approach, a networked security approach".
"We want to build up not only the military side of it but the civil side of it," she said. "We wish to go in together, out together. Afghanistan will need our support, however, in the long run, so we will not abandon them".
Obama said he thanked Merkel "for her support for the principles that I laid out last month as the basis for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians".
"Just as we agreed that both sides will need to make difficult choices, we agreed that unilateral actions, such as Palestinians seeking a vote on statehood at the UN General Assembly, should be avoided," Obama said.
Merkel said that "time is of the essence" in the need to settle the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, "and looking at the changes in the Arab area, and the Arab region, it would be a very good signal indeed if it came out that talks between the parties are again possible".
The two also discussed the historic changes under way in North Africa and the Middle East, the President said.
Merkel said the changes in North Africa "happen on our doorstep. Those are our immediate neighbors, and we have a choice. Either this works out well, or we have an enormous refugee problem. And so it is not only out of charity that we help people. It is not only a moral obligation, but we have also a vested interest in seeing to it that this continent, this region comes on its feet".
Following the recent agreement with G-8 partners in Deauville, France, Obama said he and Merkel discussed "our support for political and economic reform across the Middle East and North Africa, especially in Tunisia and Egypt".
The United States and Germany are the two largest donors of assistance to the region, "and we agreed that this historic moment must not be squandered," the President said. "Along with the entire world, we have an enormous stake in seeing that these transitions to democracy succeed".
Turning to Libya, Obama noted that Germany's deployment of additional resources and personnel to Afghanistan has allowed other NATO allies "to increase their support for the mission to protect the Libyan people," Obama said. "The chancellor and I have been clear: (Muammar) Gaddafi must step down and hand power to the Libyan people, and the pressure will only continue to increase until he does".
Progress in Libya has been "significant," the President said.
"Benghazi is free from threat of the Libyan regime right now," he said. "They are hunkered down. Misurata, which was under severe attack, is now in a situation where, although still threatened, Gaddafi's forces have been pushed back".
Across Libya is an "inexorable trend of the regime forces being pushed back, being incapacitated," he added. "You are seeing defections, often times of some very high-profile members of the Gaddafi government, as well as the military, and I think it is just a matter of time before Gaddafi goes".
Obama said he and Merkel discussed that there will be much work for Germany to do when Gaddafi steps down "in terms of getting the Libyan people back on their feet -- economic, political work that is going to have to be done". (KUNA)