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Shahar Azran
U.S. President Barack Obama. Photo by Shahar Azran

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Saturday that a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is possible, and would have to be implemented in stages.

Both sides will have to "stretch out of their comfort zones," Obama said at the annual Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., adding that "we know what the outlines of a potential agreement will look like."

On Iran, Obama said that Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is a U.S. interest, and not just an Israeli objective, the American president said. "Iran cannot and will not advance its nuclear program or increase its nuclear stockpiles."

"It is precisely because of the economic sanctions - which led the Iranian people to take a different position … this led to the election of President [Hassan] Rohani," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also spoke to the forum on Saturday, reiterating the American commitment to Israel's security.

"President Obama and I remain deeply - indeed determined - to ensuring Israel has the ability to defend itself, by itself," Kerry said. He cited examples of what he called the Administration's unparalleled security cooperation with Israel, including the Iron Dome system, military drills and training and access to sophisticated U.S. technology such as the F-35 fighter jet and V-22 Osprey aircraft.

As for Israel's security concerns in the context of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Kerry said: "We approached this challenge believing Israel needs to be strong to make peace, but peace will make Israel stronger."

U.S.-Israel relations have been strained by as Iran and world powers negotiate over the Tehran's nuclear program. An interim agreement has been signed with the hopes it halt further advances in Iran's nuclear program and buy time for negotiations on a final settlement.

Obama noted that if in no comprehensive deal will be reached with Iran in the end of the six months negotiations period, there will be more leverage to increase international sanctions.

He said there is a fifty-fifty chance of reaching a final deal, and repeated that all options remained on the table if Iran did not follow through with its obligations.

"If we cannot get the kind of comprehensive end state that satisfies us and the world community ..., then the pressure that we've been applying on them and the options that I have made clear I can avail myself of, including a military option, is one that we would consider and prepare for," he said.

Obama said it was unrealistic to believe that Iran would halt and dismantle its nuclear program completely if the successful sanctions regime were continually strengthened and talks were not given a chance to succeed.

"But precisely because we don't trust the nature of the Iranian regime, I think that we have to be more realistic and ask ourselves: what puts us in a strong position to assure ourselves that Iran's not having a nuclear weapon ... what is required to accomplish that and how does that compare to other options that we might take?"

Obama reiterated America's commitment to Israeli security, saying that "no matter who is in the White House, whether Democrat or Republican, your security will be first on our mind … you can be assured that the strongest nation in the word is taking care of your security."

This year's forum, which began on Friday, is titled “Power Shifts: U.S.-Israel Relations in a Dynamic Middle East.” Other key speakers include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is scheduled to talk on Sunday, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who spoke Friday.

Lieberman told the forum that a peace agreement between Israelis and the Palestinians is unlikely, but talks must continue if only to manage the conflict. “Trust between the two sides is about zero,” Lieberman stated, cautioning against creating “expectations” about a positive outcome for the talks.

The Saban Forum is an annual dialogue between Israeli and American leaders and is sponsored by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.