Obama: Netanyahu won't make peace easier

But US President thinks it's still just as necessary; in press conference also defends Iran overtures.

US President Barack Obama said peace-making would not get easier with Israel's new leadership, providing his first comments on the emerging Israeli government during at a press conference Tuesday night. Asked by the AFP what an Israeli prime minister "who is not fully signed up to a two-state solution and a foreign minister who has been accused of insulting Arabs," referring to Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman respectively, does to the peace process, Obama replied, "It's not easier than it was, but I think it's just as necessary." He added that the composition of the new Israeli government isn't yet clear, nor is the future make-up of the Palestinians, but that regardless, "The status quo is unsustainable." He continued, "It is critical for us to advance a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in their own states with peace and security." In a prime time press conference that focused almost exclusively on the economic crisis, Obama stressed that his tapping George Mitchell as an envoy indicated that "we're going to be serious from day one in trying to move the parties in a direction that acknowledges that reality." Unprompted by reporters, Obama also defended himself from accusations that his recent overtures to Iran - most notably, a video-taped New Year's greeting - hadn't succeeded since Tehran had dismissed them. "Some people said, 'Well, they did not immediately say that we're eliminating nuclear weapons and stop funding terrorism.' Well, we didn't expect that. We expect that we're going to make steady progress on this front," Obama maintained. He pointed to Iran as one area among many where "persistence" will be key, and suggested it would be a mantra of his administration. "That whole philosophy of persistence," he said, "is one that I'm going to be emphasizing again and again in the months and years to come as long as I'm in this office. I'm a big believer in persistence."