U.S. President Barack Obama said on Sunday that Israel has not yet decided how to respond to its concerns about Iran's nuclear pro-gram and said there was no evidence that Iran has the "intentions or capabilities" to attack U.S. soil.
Asked whether Israel was set to attack Iran, Obama told NBC TV: "I don't think that Israel has made a decision on what they need to do. I think they, like us, believe that Iran has to stand down on its nuclear weapons pro-gram," adding Israel and the United States would work "in lockstep" on Iran.
He made his comment as hundreds of protesters in several dozen U.S. and Canadian cities, including Vancouver, took to the streets in a Day of Mass Action against a possible war with Iran.
The largest gathering was in New York, where about 500 protesters marched to the headquarters of the U.S. mission to the United Nations and to the Israeli consulate.
"No war, no sanctions, no intervention, no assassinations," read a banner leading the march.
A leaflet distributed at the New York demonstration said "in many ways, U.S. war on Iran has already begun," citing as examples "harsh economic sanctions" against Tehran, "killing Iranian scientists in car bombings" and that "U.S. aircraft carriers are right off Iran's shore."
There is heightened speculation that Israel is contemplating airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, fuelled in part by U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta's comments to the Washington Post in which he said he believes there is a "strong possibility" that Israel will launch such air-strikes this spring.
Obama made clear on Sunday that he would not like to see more fighting in the oil-producing Persian Gulf region. "Any kind of additional military activity inside the Gulf is disruptive and has a big effect on us. It could have a big effect on oil prices, we've still got troops in Afghanistan, which borders Iran, and so our preferred solution here is diplomatic," he said.
The Democrat, who is up for re-election in November, has ended the U.S. war in Iraq and is seeking to wind down combat in Afghanistan amid growing public discontent about American war spending at a time when the economy remains weak.
Republican Mitt Romney, the top contender to oppose Obama in the Nov. 6 presidential election, said he would start his presidency by imposing "far tougher" sanctions on Iran and back up American diplomacy with "a very credible military option."
Tehran says its nuclear program is meant to produce energy, not weapons, and has threatened to retaliate against U.S. and European sanctions affecting its finances and oil sales.
In the NBC interview, Obama stressed he was not taking any options off the table to ensure Iran did not become a nuclear weapons power.