President Obama did a quick pivot Monday, shifting his focus to foreign policy by contacting a handful of major world leaders -- including Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and French President Nikolas Sarkozy -- as his new U.N. ambassador restated the desire for vigorous and "direct diplomacy" with Iran.
Obama spoke with the foreign leaders ahead of a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and his Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who was leaving immediately afterward for a trip to the region. Mitchell will go to Cairo, Egypt; Jersusalem, Israel; Ramallah in the West Bank; Amman, Jordan; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He will also visit Paris and London.
Back in the U.S., U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who was confirmed last week for the post, said Monday that Iran's refusal to meet international obligations will increase pressure on Tehran to drop its nuclear ambitions and cooperate with the United States and global community.
Besides pursuing nuclear weapons, Iran has called for the destruction of Israel and support for Hamas, a terror group designated by the U.S., Israel and the European Union.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Rice's remarks are not a departure from statements made previously by Obama the candidate. She merely restated the administration position that no forms of communication should be off the table with the Islamic regime.
"Whether you were on the campaign trail or not, clearly this was something that generated a lot of coverage over the past two years. And I think Ambassador Rice was simply restating the position that the president had," he said.
Gibbs did not offer any specific initiatives on dealing with Iran, but said Rice's remarks should come as no surprise.
"This administration is going to use all elements of our national power to address concerns" about Iran's nuclear program.
As for the Mitchell trip, Gibbs said Mitchell was ahead overseas "to begin the process that the president promised to be actively engaged in, the peace process there in the Middle East."
State Department Spokesman Robert A. Wood said the purpose of the trip is to consult with regional leaders on a range of issues, including trying to contain smuggling into Gaza to prevent the rearming of Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza. He said Mitchell will not meet with any Hamas leaders.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.