U.S. President Barack Obama is pushing hard for his economic stimulus plan and hinting of possible future contacts with Iran. He discussed both issues Monday uring his first presidential news conference.
The president went before reporters and the nation in an all out effort to win support for the stimulus package now before Congress. "As long as I hold this office, I will do whatever it takes to put this economy back on track and put this country back to work," he said.
He said that with a private sector weakened by recession, the government must step in to help. "If you delay acting on an economy of this severity, then you potentially create a negative spiral that becomes much more difficult for us to get out of," the president said.
Although most of the questions dealt with the economy, Mr. Obama also talked about foreign policy. The president indicated that diplomatic contacts with Iran could be in the offing. "My expectation is in the coming months we will be looking for openings that could be created where we could start sitting across the table, face to face, with diplomatic overtures that will allow us to move our policy in a new direction."
He cautioned there have been decades of mistrust, and that things will not change overnight. Mr. Obama stressed that Iran continues to back militant groups, seek nuclear weapons and foster instability in the Middle East. "There are going to be a set of objectives that we have in these conversations. But I think there is the possibility at least of a relationship of mutual respect."
Mr. Obama went on to speak about Afghanistan, stressing concern with a lack of progress on the political front that, he said, lags behind Iraq. He stressed that a review of Washington's policy toward Kabul is underway. "We are going to need more effective coordination of our military with our diplomatic efforts, with development efforts, with more effective coordination with our allies."
President Obama went on to stress the need to prevent terrorists in South Asia from plotting another attack on the United States. He said al-Qaida cannot be allowed to operate and that there can be no safe havens for terrorists in Afghanistan or the mountainous border area of neighboring Pakistan. "We have got to work in a regional fashion to root out those safe havens. It is not acceptable for Pakistan or for us to have folks that with impunity will kill innocent men, women and children."
The president noted that his South Asia envoy, Richard Holbrooke, is now in the region. He said Holbrooke is carrying a message to Islamabad that Pakistan is also threatened by terrorists on its soil.