21 December 2013, 10:12

In final 2013 press conference Obama recaps 'ups and downs' of the year

Putting a rosy spin on a difficult year, President Barack Obama acknowledged frustrating "ups and downs" on Friday. But Citing progress on the economy, President Barack Obama said that 2014 "can be a breakthrough year for America" after a long era of recession and slow recovery.

In his annual year-end news conference, Obama refused to dwell on his tumbling approval ratings, the disastrous rollout of his signature health care law or the pile of unfinished domestic priorities he leaves behind as he heads for a Christmas holiday in Hawaii. Asked whether this had been the worst year of his presidency so far, he laughed and said, "That's not how I think about it."

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Yet not all was sunny. He did suggest that, given widespread criticism, he may alter the power of the National Security Agency to collect information on Americans.

Obama defended his administration's decision to delay for some people the requirement to buy medical insurance under his healthcare law, but acknowledged that the botched rollout of the policy was his biggest mistake of 2013.

"Since I'm in charge, obviously we screwed it up," Obama said at his year-end news conference.

NSA surveillance

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President Obama signaled that he may halt the National Security Agency's collection and storage of millions of Americans' phone records and instead require phone companies to hold the data. He said that he would have a "pretty definitive statement" on proposed NSA reforms in January, following his family's annual holiday break in Hawaii.

After lying dormant for years, the government surveillance issues shot into the spotlight after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked a trove of secret documents. Snowden is a fugitive from the US and living in Russia, where he received temporary asylum. Some of his supporters have pressed Obama to grant him amnesty, though the president declined to comment on those calls.

''I will leave it up to the courts and the attorney general to weigh in in public on Mr. Snowden's case,'' he said.

Syria and Iran

Obama provided a summary of accomplishments, and work still to be done, overseas.

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"This year we have demonstrated that with clear-eyed principled diplomacy, we can pursue a new path to a world that is more secure, a future where Iran does not build a nuclear weapon, a future where Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles are destroyed," said Obama.

The interim deal between the United States and other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany, provides Iran with limited sanctions relief in exchange for halting parts of its nuclear program.

Obama appealed again to US lawmakers not to pass legislation imposing new sanctions on Iran, which he has threatened to veto, while a final nuclear deal is negotiated in coming months.

"It's not going to be hard for us to turn the dials back, strengthen sanctions even further. I'll work with members of Congress to put even more pressure on Iran. But there is no reason to do it right now," he said.

Presidency

Polls show Obama's approval rating at record lows for the nearly five years he's been in office, but he told reporters at a year-end news conference that his concern is whether things are getting better for the American people.

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Obama's second term began with grand ambitions to tackle gun control, immigration reform and fiscal agreements. Congress only managed to reach a modest accord on the last of those three issues, and only after a politically bruising government shutdown that extracted a political toll on all of Washington.

Instead, he cited continuing economic growth after the recession he inherited when he took office in January 2009 and other progress, such as more than 1 million people signing up for health insurance so far under the controversial reforms he championed.

"That is a big deal. That's why I ran for this office," Obama said.

Voice of Russia, Reuters, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Yahoo News, CNN

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