WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said Sunday he would not hesitate to attack Iran to keep it from getting a nuclear bomb, hoping a forceful assurance would discourage Israel from launching a unilateral strike that could ignite the Middle East and drag the United States into war.

Pleading for time for diplomacy to work, Obama warned that "loose talk of war" was undermining world security.

Addressing a powerful pro-Israel lobby, Obama delivered messages to multiple political audiences: Israel, Iran, Jewish voters, a restless Congress, a wary international community and three Republican presidential contenders who will speak to the same group Tuesday.

At the core was his bullish assertion that the United States will never settle for containing a nuclear-armed Iran or fail to defend Israel.

"I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests," Obama said.

But he framed military force as a last resort, not the next option at a time when sanctions are squeezing Iran. He seemed intent on quieting a drumbeat for war, saying even talk of it has driven up the price of oil, to the benefit of Iran.

"Now is not the time for bluster," Obama said. "Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in."

Obama's speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee set a tone for a vital meeting today with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. More than once, Obama threatened force, but made clear his preference was peace through pressure.

Netanyahu, standing his ground against what his country perceives as a threat to its existence, said he perhaps most appreciated hearing Obama say that "Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat." Speaking to reporters in Canada ahead of his arrival in the United States, Netanyahu made no reference to the sanctions and diplomacy Obama emphasized.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, and escalating sanctions have not deterred its pursuit. It has ramped up production of higher-grade enriched uranium needed for an atomic weapon.

Obama offered the lines Israel wanted to hear, framing the Iranian threat as a problem for the world, and asserting Israel's right to defend itself how it sees fit. No assurance was more important than when Obama said he does not have a "policy of containment" about Iran, but rather one to deny it a nuclear weapon.

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