President Barack Obama speaks at his first news conference this year. (Shirley Li/Medill)

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama faced an eager press Tuesday in his first official news conference this year, taking on tough topics ranging from the question of possible U.S. involvement in Syria to conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh.

After quickly introducing new measures for tackling the country’s housing crisis, including a new mortgage refinance plan, Obama chose his words carefully as he outlined his positions on foreign policy issues.

Defending his intent to negotiate with Iran over its threat to develop nuclear power, Obama said there is a “window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically.” He then bashed his Republican rivals, saying that making decisions on military action is “not a game.”

“What’s said on the campaign trail, you know, those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities. They’re not commander in chief,” he said. “The world is unified; Iran is politically isolated. My policy is not containment. My policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.”

As for taking military steps to aid Syria, Obama reiterated his warning against acting based on politics. GOP rhetoric suggesting the U.S. should intervene in  the tumultuous nation is brash and premature, he said.

“Any time we consider military action…there’s going to be a price to pay,” he said. “Sometimes it’s necessary, but we don’t do it casually.”

Only the issue of women’s rights, in regard to Rush Limbaugh’s disparaging comments toward activist Sandra Fluke, led to a pause in the president’s steady flow of words.

“All decent folks can agree that the remarks that were made don’t have any place in the public discourse,” Obama said in a lowered tone. “The reason I called Ms. Fluke is because I thought about Malia and Sasha, and one of the things I want them to do as they get older is to engage in issues they care about…I want them to be able to speak their minds in a civil, in a thoughtful way, and I don’t want them attacked or called horrible names because they’re being good citizens.”

Although his reelection campaign is in the spotlight – recent polls by ABC News and the Washington Post put him neck and neck with Mitt Romney – Obama steered clear of Super Tuesday, delivering just one tongue-in-cheek remark to would-be Republican opponent Mitt Romney at the end of the news conference.

“Good luck tonight,” he said, smirking. “Really.”