President Barack Obama says he and Iran's new President Hassan Rowhani have exchanged letters, and warned his reluctance to strike Syria had no bearing on US threats of force to thwart an Iranian nuclear bomb.
In an interview aired on ABC News Sunday, Obama confirmed the outreach to Rowhani for the first time, and said he believed the Syria chemical arms drama showed that diplomacy could work if backed by threats of military action.
Asked if he had reached out personally to Iran's president, Obama answered, "I have. And he's reached out to me. We haven't spoken directly ..."
Stephanopolous then asked if Obama meant they'd exchanged letters, and Obama said yes.
"Negotiations with the Iranians is always difficult," Obama quickly added. "I think this new president is not going to suddenly make it easy."
Obama noted that for the U.S., preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is a higher priority than ridding Syria of chemical weapons. And Iran's leaders should remember that, he said.
"My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn't draw a lesson that we haven't struck [Syria] — to think that we won't strike Iran. On the other hand, what they should draw from this lesson is that there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically," Obama said.
"My view is that if you have both a credible threat of force, combined with a rigorous diplomatic effort that in fact, you can strike a deal," Obama said.