During his first news conference of the year, President Obama defended his decision not to intervene militarily in Iran and Syria.

"Sometimes [force] is necessary but we don't do it casually," he said. "There is a cost and we don't play politics with it."

Obama described the situation in Syria as "more complicated" than the situation in Libya and said deploying the military is not the only way to solve problems.

Questions about Iran took center stage, especially because the news conference was held a day after President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been weighing whether to strike Iran's nuclear facilities.

"It is deeply in everybody's interest... to see if this can be resolved in a diplomatic manner," Obama said. He also added that sanctions were having a "significant effect" on Iran and they will get tougher.

"At this stage," Obama said, "we have a window of opportunity where this could be resolved diplomatically."

The president dismissed the idea that a decision about Iran has to be made in a week or a month and he also dismissed the "bluster" of the Republican presidential candidates, saying when they're asked what they would do, they recite the same policies as Obama.

Obama also announced a new housing initiative that will allow homeowners with mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration to refinance at a lower rate. Along with that he announced a settlement that will compensate active military who were wrongfully foreclosed on and who were not given an opportunity to refinance.

The president was also asked about Rush Limbaugh, immigration reform and the Republican nomination contest. We live blogged the conference, so keep reading, if you want a blow-by-blow account.

Update at 2:03 p.m. ET. A Confident, Happy President:

NPR's Mara Liasson says this was a "confident, happy president" who was never on the defensive.

Mara said that it sounded like he was happy with his decision to stay out of Syria and didn't seem like he had been "put in box" by Netanyahu. In fact when asked to explain what he meant about having "Israel's back," he compared it to having the back of other allies like Britain and Japan.

It means that if they're attacked, the U.S. will intervene to help them, said Mara, not that the U.S. will go in to help them if they pick a fight.

Update at 1:58 p.m. ET. On Afghanistan:

Obama said that the NATO coalition in Afghanistan is sticking to the exit strategy set up in Lisbon.

He said the Koran burning incident "concerns" him and that it's an "indication of the challenge in that environment and an indication that now is the time to transition."

Update at 1:51 p.m. ET. Good Luck Tonight:

Obama is asked to weigh in on tonight's Republican contests, especially considering that Mitt Romney has called him the "most feckless president since Carter."

Obama was asked what he has to say to Romney.

"Good luck tonight," he said, simply.

Update at 1:46 p.m. ET. Every American Should Want Immigration Reform:

"Speaking substantively, every American should want immigration reform. We have a system that is broken," he said. "We can be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants."

Obama said he pushed for comprehensive immigration reform but politics of the issue made it impossible to come to agreement. Obama said immigration is not only a "Latino issue, it's an American issue." He said he agrees with his predecessor that immigration reform is something Republicans should back.

Update at 1:44 p.m. ET. On Limbaugh:

Obama declines to comment on whether Rush Limbaugh's apology was sincere.

"I wanted Sandra [Fluke] to know that I thought her parents should be proud of her," he said, adding that being part of a democracy should not mean "being demeaned and insulted, especially as a private citizen."

Update at 1:41 p.m. ET. 'I've Had Israel's Back'

"It is indisputable that I've had Israel's back for three years," Obama says answering a question as to why he had not visited Israel as president. He also noted that he visited Israel twice as a senator.

Update at 1:36 p.m. ET. No Breakthrough In First Meeting With Iran:

Answering a question about earlier news that the U.S. and its allies have agreed to return to negotiations with Iran, Obama says he doesn't expect the issues to be resolved in one meeting.

But Iran, he said, knows what they must do and it's not difficult.

"Iran has to come to the table and prove its nuclear program is peaceful," Obama said.

That said Obama said he expects, "we will have a good sense pretty quickly about how serious they are about resolving the issue."

Update at 1:30 p.m. ET. In Everyone's Interest To Resolve Iran Issue Diplomatically:

President Obama says sanctions on Iran are "starting to have significant effect" on Iran and they will get tougher. He says to talk of military action right now is premature.

"It is deeply in everybody's interest... to see if this can be resolved in a diplomatic manner.

"Sometimes [force] is necessary but we don't do it casually," he said. "There is a cost and we don't play politics with it."

In a follow up question, Obama said that that doesn't mean that there is any rift between relationships with the United States and Israel.

Update at 1:25 p.m. ET. Syria Is More Complicated:

Obama moves from Iran to Syria, saying it presents a different situation than Libya.

It is "much more complicated," he said. "The notion that the only way to solve all of these problems is to deploy our military... that hasn't been true in the past, and won't be true in the future."

Still, Obama says, he is sure that President Bashar Assad will step down and the United States is working on diplomatic solutions.

Update at 1:23 p.m. ET. Iran Can Be Solved Diplomatically:

"At this stage," Obama says, "we have a window of opportunity where this could resolved diplomatically."

Update at 1:18 p.m. ET. More Detail On Refinancing:

Obama says they are cutting the refinancing fees required by FHA loans.

Obama also says that the've reached a settlement with banks who gave mortgages to active duty military. He outlines two main points:

-- If a member of the armed forces was foreclosed illegally, they will be "substantially compensated."

-- If a member of the armed forces was not allowed to refinance to a lower interest rate, the banks will refund the money they could've saved and lower their rates.

Update at 1:15 p.m. ET. A Political Contest:

Obama opens his press conference acknowledging that there is a "political contest" going on tonight.

He quickly moves on to lay out his domestic agenda:

-- He wants to cut tax breaks for corporations "shipping jobs overseas."

-- Congress should pass the Buffett rule.

-- Congress should pass his proposal for homeowners to refinance.

Update at 1:13 p.m. ET. Two-Minute Warning:

Note we've just gotten a two minute warning.

Update at 1:12 p.m. ET. A Bit More On The Housing Program:

On our live coverage of the press conference, Mara provided a bit more detail about the housing program Obama will unveil.

Mara says it could benefit 2 to 3 million of homeowners whose mortgages are backed by the Federal Housing Administration. The program would save homeowners $1,000 a year.

Update at 1:08 p.m. ET. NPR's Live Coverage:

You can listen to NPR's live coverage by clicking here.

Update at 1:02 p.m. ET. The Markets:

While we wait for the president, it's worth noting that the Dow has just posted its biggest loss of the year, according to the AP.

We mentioned the economic upswing earlier, but this just highlights the tenuous position of the economy.

Update at 12:59 p.m. ET. Syria, Iran:

NPR's Mara Liasson tells our Newscast unit that we should expect questions on the violent crackdown in Syria, the rising tensions in the Middle East, and about tensions between Iran and Israel over Iran's nuclear program.

Update at 12:56 p.m. ET. Brady Briefing Room:

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