On other points, Obama:
—Contrasted his tenure as a senator with the current crop of first-term Republican senators, saying he "didn't go around courting the media" or "trying to shut down the government" while he was in the Senate.
—Said he's considering keeping some American forces in Afghanistan after the war formally ends in late 2014, if an agreement can be reached with the Afghan government. He tried to do the same in Iraq but was unable to reach an agreement with its government.
—Suggested that the owner of the Washington Redskins football team consider changing its name because, the president said, the current name offends "a sizable group of people."
Obama's comments on Iran came amid signs that long-standing tensions between the U.S. and Tehran might be easing. In late September, Obama spoke by phone with President Hassan Rouhani, Iran's new, more-moderate sounding leader. The 15-minute call marked the first direct exchange between U.S. and Iranian leaders in more than 30 years.
"Rouhani has staked his position on the idea that he can improve relations with the rest of the world," Obama said. "And so far he's been saying a lot of the right things. And the question now is, can he follow through?"
But Obama said Rouhani is not Iran's only "decision-maker. He's not even the ultimate decision-maker," a reference to the control wielded by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Given the supreme leader's broad influence, some countries, most notably Israel, have questioned whether Rouhani actually represents real change in Iran or just new packaging of old policies.
Khamenei said Saturday that he supported Rouhani's outreach to the West, but at the same time called the U.S. government "untrustworthy, arrogant, illogical and a promise-breaker," according to comment summarized on his website.