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Quran Controversy, US Economy Expected to Dominate Obama News Conference

President Barack Obama will hold a major news conference on Friday that is expected to focus on the economy, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the now-cancelled plan by a small Florida church to burn copies of the Quran.

President Obama last faced reporters in a major White House news conference in May, as his administration grappled with the early impact of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

High visibility foreign policy issues have made headlines in recent weeks - the formal end of the U.S. combat role in Iraq and the start of direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians.

While there will be questions about these issues, and about Afghanistan, the U.S. economy is likely to dominate when reporters question Mr. Obama.

The president faces low public opinion poll numbers less than two months before midterm congressional elections in November. Surveys show that Americans are worried about slow job growth, and that they are skeptical about steps Mr. Obama has taken to bring down the unemployment rate, which now stands at 9.6 percent.  Political analysts say Democrats could lose as many as 50 seats in the House of Representatives.

Mr. Obama is facing intense criticism from Republicans, notably House of Representatives Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, who spoke this week on ABC television's "Good Morning America" program. "You can't have a strong economy if you're raising taxes on the very people that you expect to invest in our economy to begin hiring again," he said.

Boehner, who stands to become House Speaker if Republicans win control of that chamber of Congress in November, says the current Democratic-controlled Congress should immediately extend tax reductions passed under former President George W. Bush, including those for wealthier Americans.

President Obama rejects this, saying that that Americans would be worse off if Republicans get another chance at managing the economy.  

In Cleveland, Ohio, Wednesday the president criticized Boehner for opposing steps the White House says saved middle class jobs.  Mr. Obama said Boehner and Republicans have no serious plan to govern.

"So that's the choice, Ohio.  Do we return to the same failed policies that ran our economy into a ditch or do we keep moving forward with policies that are slowly pulling us out?," the president said.

Certain to come up in Friday's news conference is the controversy over the now cancelled plans by a small Florida church, headed by Reverend Terry Jones, to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the 2001 al-Qaida terrorist attacks on the United States.

President Obama, administration officials, U.S. military commanders, and international political and relgious leaders had urged Reverend Jones to cancel the Quran burning.

The Pentagon confirmed it was Defense Secretary Robert Gates who telephoned Reverend Jones, expressing what a spokesman called grave concern that going forward with the Quran burning would put the lives of American troops at risk.  

It's assumed, but not confirmed, that President Obama played some role in the consultations leading up to that phone call.  Friday's news conference will be an opportunity for the president to comment on the latest developments in the controversy.

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