Obama on Iran, olympics, NSA, economy

Associated Press Updated: December 20, 2013 at 1:59 pm • Published: December 20, 2013 0

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says he's not brooding about 2013, despite a series of setbacks.

The president said at a year-end news conference from the White House Friday that as long as the economy is improving and he's helping families, he's OK.

Obama's approval rating has been at record lows recently. But he joked that in the seven years since he launched his presidential campaign, the media has, quote, "recorded 15 near-death experiences."

He acknowledged frustration that he didn't get the legislative reforms he wanted, specifically mentioning gun control and immigration. And he said his health care law hasn't worked the way it should have.

But he said he's going to keep working on his agenda and predicted 2014 would be "a breakthrough year for America."

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On NSA:

Obama suggests he may be ready to rein in some of the bulk collection of Americans' phone records to allay the public's privacy concerns.

At an end-of-year news conference, Obama said he has not yet made any decisions about the National Security Agency's collection programs. But he offers the first indication that he may be willing to change some parts of the controversial program that collects and stores Americans' phone records. He says there may be "another way of skinning the cat."

One reform could be to stop the practice of government storing phone records for five years and shift that storage to phone companies.

Obama offered a broad defense of the surveillance programs that have been revealed in documents leaked by a former NSA systems analyst.

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On economy:

Obama singles out recent improvements in the economy and says 2014 could be a 'breakthrough year' for the United States.

Obama highlighted reports Friday that the economy grew at a 4.1 percent annual rate from July through September, higher than previously believed.

The economic news, while modest, has been a glimmer of light for Obama in an otherwise difficult year.

Obama also voiced support for proposed legislation that would extend unemployment benefits by three months. The benefits expire later this month for about 1.3 million Americans.

He says jobless assistance should be the first order of business for Congress in January.

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On Iran:

Obama is urging Congress to resist new sanctions against Iran because current agreements have a good chance to rein in that country's nuclear ambitions.

Obama told reporters Friday that Iran has agreed to actions that will let other nations determine whether it is trying to weaponize nuclear materials. Iran says the materials are for peaceful uses only.

The president said he would support tougher sanctions later if Iran violates the agreement.

He said it's politically popular for some lawmakers to look tough against Iran. Obama urged Congress to hold off and give current diplomacy a chance to work.

Israel says the current agreements are too lenient with Iran.

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On Olympics:

Obama says the delegation he's sending to Russia for the Winter Olympics shows the United States doesn't make distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation.

Russia has come under fierce criticism for passing national laws banning "gay propaganda."

Obama's group heading to Sochi includes openly gay athletes Brian Boitano, Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow. He says the delegation "speaks for itself," and they are world-class athletes who happen to be gay.

The Sochi Games are the first since 2000 to which the U.S. is not sending a president, former president, first lady or vice president.

Obama says it would be tough for him to attend the games himself next year with all that's going on in Washington. But he predicted he will attend again after his presidency.

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