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FULL TRANSCRIPT: President Obama Holds First News Conference Since Re-Election

Here is the full transcript of today's White House news conference. It was the first full question-and-answer session between President Obama and the press corps since March and the first since his re-election.


OBAMA: Good afternoon everybody please have a seat. I heard you had some questions for me (laughter) but let me just make a few remarks at the top and then I'll open it up.

First of all I want to reiterate what I said on Friday. Right now our economy is still recovering from a very deep and damaging crisis, so our top priority has to be jobs and growth.

We've got to build on the progress that we've made, because this nation succeeds when we've got a growing, thriving middle class. And that's the idea of the core of the plan

that I've talked about on the campaign trail over the last year.

Rewarding manufacturers and small businesses that are made here and not overseas, providing more Americans the chance to earn the skills that businesses are looking for right now, keeping this country at the forefront of research, technology and clean energy; putting people back to work, rebuilding our roads, our bridges and our schools; and reducing our deficit in a balanced and responsible way.

Now on this last item. We face a very clear deadline that requires us to make some very big decisions on jobs, taxes and deficits by the end of the year.

Both parties voted to set this deadline and ii believe that both parties can work together to make these decisions in a balanced and responsible way. Yesterday I had a chance to meet with laborer and civic leaders for their input. Today I am meeting with CEOs of some of America's largest companies and I'll meet with the leaders of both parties of congress before the week is out, because there is only one way to solve these challenges and that is to do it together.

As I've said before, I'm open to compromise and I'm open to ideas. And I've been encouraged over the past week to hear Republican after Republican agree on the need for more revenue from the wealthiest Americans as the part of our arithmetic if we are going to be serious in reducing the deficit. Because when it comes to taxes there are two pathways available

Option one, if congress fails to act by the end of this year, everybody's taxes will automatically go up, including the 98% Americans who make the 250 thousand dollars a year and the 97% of small businesses who earn less than 250 thousand dollars per year. That doesn't make sense

Our economy can't afford that right now. Certainly no middle class family can't afford that right now. And nobody in either party says that they want it to happen. The other option is to pass a law right now that would prevent any tax hike whatsoever on the first 250 thousand dollars over everybody's income.

And by the way that means every American including the wealthiest Americans get a tax cut. It means that 98% of all Americans, 97% of all small businesses won't see their taxes go up a single dime. The Senate has already passed a law like this. Democrats in the house are ready to pass a law like this. And I hope Republicans in the House come on board too.

We should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts for the wealthy. We should at least do what we agree on and that's to keep the middle class taxes lower and I will bring everyone in to sign it right away so we can get folks for certainty before the holiday season, I won't pretend that figuring out everything else will be easy, but I'm confident we can do it.

And I know we have to. I know that that's what the American people want us to do. That was the very clear message from the election last week and that was the message of a letter I received over the weekend. It came from a man from Tennessee who began by writing that he didn't vote for me, which is okay.

Um, but what he said was that even though he didn't give me his vote, he's giving me his support to move this country forward. And he said the same to his Republican representatives in Washington. He said that he'll back each of us regardless the party as long as we're going o work together to make life better for all of us.

They made it clear that if we don't make enough progress, he'll be back in touch. "So my hope," he wrote, "is that we can make progress in light of personal and party principles, special interest groups and years of business as usual. We've got to work together to put our differences aside." I couldn't say it better myself.

That's precisely what I intend to do, and with that let me open it up for your questions. I'm going to start off with Ben Feller of AP.

Ben Feller: Thank you, Mr. President. Can you assure the American people that there have been no breaches of national security or classified information in the scandal involving Generals Petraeus and Allen? And do you think that you as commander in chief and the American people should have been told that the CIA chief was under investigation before the election?

OBAMA: Well, I have no evidence at this point from what I've seen that classified information was disclosed that in any way would have had a negative impact on our national security. Obviously, there's an ongoing investigation. I don't want to comment on the specifics of the investigation.

The FBI has its own protocols in terms of how they proceed, and I'm going to let drector Mueller and others examine those protocols and make some statements to the public generally. I do want to emphasize what I've said before. General Petraeus had an extraordinary career. He served this country with great distinction in Iraq, in Afghanistan and as head of the CIA.

By his own assessment, he did not meet the standards that he felt were necessary as the director of CIA with respect to this personal matter that he is now dealing with with his family and with his wife. And it's on that basis that he tendered his resignation and it's on that basis that I accepted it.

But I want to emphasize that from my perspective; at least, he has provided this country an extraordinary service. We are safer because of the work that Dave Petraeus has done. And my main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side-note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.

QUESTION: (inaudible).

OBAMA: You know, again, I think you're going to have to talk to the FBI in terms of what their general protocols are when it comes to what started off as a potential criminal investigation. You know, one of the challenges here is that we're not supposed to meddle in, you know, criminal investigations and that's been our practice.

And, you know, I think that there are certain procedures that both the FBI follow or DOJ follow when they're involved in these investigations. That's traditionally been how we view things in part because people are innocent until proven guilty and we want to make sure that we don't prejudge these kinds of situations.

And so my expectation is that they follow protocols that they already established.

QUESTION: Mr. President on the fiscal cliff you said two years ago sir that you wouldn't extend the Bush era tax cuts but at the end of the day you did. So respectfully sir, why should the American people and the Republicans believe that you won't cave again this time?

OBAMA: Well two years ago the economy was in a different situation. We were still very much in the early parts of recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And ultimately we came together to not only extend the Bush tax cuts but also a wide range of policies that were going to be good for the economy at that point.

Unemployment insurance extensions, payroll tax extensions, all which made a difference and is part of the reason why what we've seen now is 32 consecutive months of job growth of over five and a half million jobs created and the unemployment rate coming down.

But what I said at the time is what I meant, which is, this is a one time proposition and what I had told leaders privately as well as publicly is that we cannot afford to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

What we can do is make sure that middle class taxes don't go up and so the most important step that we can take right now and I think the foundation for a deal that helps the economy, creates jobs, gives consumers certainty which means gives businesses confidence that they're going to have consumers during the holiday season is if we right away say 98% of Americans are not going to see their taxes go up, 97% of small businesses are not going to see their taxes go up.

If we get that in place, we are actually removing half of the fiscal cliff. Half of the danger to our economy is removed by that single step. And what we can then do is shape a process whereby we look at tax reform, which I'm very eager to do.

I think we can simplify our tax system, I think we can make it more efficient, we can eliminate loopholes and deductions that have a distorting effect on our economy. I believe we have to continue to take a serious look at how we reform our entitlements because health care costs continue to be the biggest driver of our deficits.

So there is a package to be shaped, and I'm confident that parties, folks of goodwill in both parties, can make that happen. But what I'm not going to do is extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% that we can't afford, and according to economists will have the least positive impact on our economy.

REPORTER: You said that the wealthiest must pay more. Would closing loopholes instead of raising rates for them satisfy you?

OBAMA: I think there are loopholes that can be closed and we should look at how we can make the process of deductions, the filing process easier, simpler. But when it comes to the top 2%, what I'm not going to do is to extend further a tax cut for folks who don't need it which would cost close to a trillion dollars.

And it's very difficult to see how you make up that trillion dollars if we're serious about deficit reduction, just by closing loopholes and deductions. The math tends not to work. And I think it's important to establish a basic principle that was debated extensively over the course of this campaign.

I mean, this shouldn't be a surprise to anybody. If there was one thing everybody understood was a big difference between myself and Mr. Romney, it was when it comes to how we reduce our deficit I argued for a balanced approach and part of that included making sure that the wealthiest Americans pay a little bit more.

I think everybody out there understood that was an important debate and the majority of voters agreed with me. By the way, more voters agreed with me on this issue than voted for me! So we've got a clear majority of the American people who recognize if we're gonna be serious about deficit reduction we gotta do it in a balanced way.

The only question now is are we gonna hold the middle class hostage in order to go ahead and let that happen? Or can we all step back and say "here's something we agree on, we don't want middle class taxes to go up, let's go ahead and lock that in, it will be good for the economy it will be good for consumers it will be good for businesses, it takes the edge off the fiscal cliff, and let's also then commit ourselves to the broader package of deficit reduction that includes entitlement changes and potentially tax reform as well as additional work on the discretionary spending side.

I want a big deal, I want a comprehensive deal, I wanna see if we can at least for the foreseeable future provide certainty to businesses and the American people so we can focus on job growth so we're also investing in the things that we need.

But right now what I wanna make sure of is taxes on middle class families don't go up. There's a very easy way to do that. We can get that done by next week.

REPORTER: Thank you Mr. President. On immigration reform, the criticism in the past has been that you did not put forth legislation with specific ideas and send it up to the Hill. This time around you have said again this will be one of the top priorities for a second term. Will you then send legislation to the Hill. Exactly what do you envision is broad immigration reform? And also what lessons if any did Democrats learn from this last election and the Latino vote?

OBAMA: Well uh... I think what was incredibly encouraging was to see a significant increase in Latino turnout. It is the fastest growing group in the country and historically what you've seen is the Latino vote at lower rates than the broader population and that's beginning to change. You're beginning to see a sense of empowerment, of civic participation that I think is gonna be powerful and good for the country.

And it is why I'm very confident we can get immigration reform done. Before the election I'd given a couple of interviews where I'd predicted that Latino vote was gonna be strong and that would cause some reflection on the part of Republicans on their position on immigration reform.

I think we're starting to see that already. I think that's a positive sign. This has not historically been a partisan issue, we've had President Bush, John McCain and others who've supported immigration reform in the past.

So we need to seize the moment, and my expectation is that we get a bill introduced and we begin the process in Congress very soon after my inauguration. And in fact some conversations are already beginning between Senators and Congressmen and my staff about what would this look like.

And when I say comprehensive immigration reform it is very similar to outlines of previous attempts at comprehensive immigration reform. I think it should include a continuation of the strong border security measures we've taken because we have to secure our borders. I think it should contain serious penalties for companies that are purposely hiring undocumented workers and taking advantage of them.

And I do think there should be a pathway for legal status for those who are living in this country, are not engaged in criminal activity, are here simply to work. It's important for them to pay back taxes, it's important for them to learn English, it's important for them to potentially pay a fine. But to give them the avenue whereby they can resolve their legal status in this country is very important.

Obviously making sure that we put into law the first step we've taken administratively with the Dream Act is very important as well. One thing I'm very clear about is that young people who are brought here through no fault of their own, who have gone to school here, pledged allegiance to our flag, wanna serve in our military, wanna go to school and contribute to our society; they shouldn't be under the cloud of deportation.

That we should give them every opportunity to earn their citizenship. So there are other components to it obviously. The business community continues to be concerned about being able to get enough high-skilled workers. I'm a believer that if you've got a phD in physics or computer science who wants to stay here and start a business here, we shouldn't make it harder for him to stay here, we should try and encourage him to contribute to this society.

I think that the agricultural sector obviously has very specific concerns about making sure they have a workforce that delivers food to our table. So there are components to it but I think whatever process we have needs to make sure border security is strong, needs to deal with employers effectively, needs to provide a path for the undocumented here, needs to deal with Dream Act kids, and I think that's something we can get done.

Chuck Todd?

CHUCK TODD (NBC REPORTER): Mr. President I just wanna follow up on both Ben's question and Jessica's question. On having to do with Ben's question? [CROSSTALK, President laughs].

Are you withholding judgment on whether you should have known sooner that there was an investigation into whether there was potentially a national security breach with your CIA Director. Do you believe you should have known sooner, are you withholding judgment until the investigation is complete on that front.

And the followup to Jessica's question: tax rates. Is there no deal at the end of the year, if tax rates for the top 2% aren't the Clinton tax rates, period, no ifs ands or buts, or room in negotiating on that specific aspect of the fiscal cliff?

OBAMA: I am withholding judgment with respect to how the entire process surrounding General Petraeus came up. We don't have all the info yet, but I wanna say I have a lot of confidence generally in the FBI, and they've got a difficult job and so I'm going to wait and see to see if there's any other [crosstalk].

[REPORTER - INAUDIBLE]

I mean, Chuck, what I'll say is that if, um... it is also possible that had we been told, then you'd be sitting there asking a question about why were you interfering with a criminal investigation? So I think it's best right now for us to just see how this whole process unfolded.

With respect to the tax rates, I just want to emphasize I am open to new ideas. If the Republican counterparts or some Democrats have a great idea for us to raise revenue, maintain progressivity, make sure the middle class isn't getting hit, reduces our deficit, encourages growth, I'm not just going to slam the door in their face. I want to hear ideas from everybody.

[REPORTER - INAUDIBLE]

Well, look, I believe this is solvable. I think that fair-minded people can come to an agreement that does not cause the economy to go back to recession, that protects middle class families, that focuses on jobs and growth and reduces our deficit. I'm confident it can be done. My budget, frankly, doesn't. I understand that I don't expect the Republicans simply to adopt my budget. That's not realistic. So I recognize that we're going to have to compromise. And as I said on election night, compromise is hard. And not everybody gets 100% of what they want and not everybody will be perfectly happy.

But what I will not do is to have a process that is vague, that says we're going to sort of, kind of raise revenue through dynamic scoring or closing loopholes that have not been identified. And the reason I won't do that is because I don't want to find ourselves in a position six months from now or a year from now, where lo and behold, the only way to close the deficit is to sock it to middle class families. Or to burden families who have disabled kids or have a parent in a nursing home or suddenly we've got to cut more out of our basic research budget, that is the key to growing the economy in the long term.

So that's my concern. I'm less concerned about red lines per se. What I'm concerned about is not finding ourselves in a situation where the wealthy aren't paying more or aren't paying as much as they should, middle class families, one way or the other, making up the difference. That's the kind of status quo that has been going on here for too long. And that's exactly what I argued against during this campaign. And if there's one thing that I'm pretty confident about is the American people understood what they were getting when they gave me the incredible privilege of being in office another four years.

They want compromise. They wanted action. But they also wanted to make sure that middle class folks aren't bearing the entire burden and sacrifice when it comes to some of these big challenges. They expect folks at the top are doing their fair share as well. And that's going to be my guiding principle during these negotiations but more importantly during the next four years of my administration. Nancy Cortes

NANCY CORTES (REPORTER): Mr. President, on election night, you said you were looking forward to speaking with Governor Romney sitting down in the coming weeks to discuss ways you could work together on this nation's problems. Have you extended that invitation? Has he accepted? And in what ways do you think you can work together?

OBAMA: You know, we haven't scheduled something yet. I think everybody forgets that the election was only a week ago. And I know I've forgotten. I forgot on Wednesday. [LAUGHTER] So, I think everybody needs to catch their breath. I'm sure Governor Romney is spending some time with his family. And my hope is before the end of the year we have a chance to sit down and talk.

There are certain aspects of Governor Romney's record and his ideas that I think could be very helpful. And, to give you one example, I do think he did a terrific job running the Olympics. And that skill set of trying to figure out how do we make something work better applies to the federal government. There are a lot of ideas that I don't think are partisan ideas, but are smart ideas about, how can we make the federal government more customer friendly? How can we make sure that we're consolidating programs that are duplicative? How can we eliminate additional wastes. He presented some ideas during the course of the campaign that I actually agreed with. So it'd be interesting to talk to him about something like that.

There may be ideas with respect to jobs and growth that could help middle class families that I want to hear. I'm not either prejudging what he's interested in doing nor am I suggesting I've got some specific assignment. What I want to do is get ideas with him and see if there's some ways we can potentially work together.

CORTES: When it comes to relationships with Congress, one of the most frequent criticisms we've heard over the past few years from members from both sides, is you haven't done enough to reach out and build relationships. Are there concrete ways that you plan to approach your relationship with Congress in the second term?

OBAMA: Look, I think there's no doubt that I could always do better. I will examine ways that I can make sure to communicate my desire to work with everybody. So long as it's advancing the cause of strengthening our middle class and improving our economy. I've got a lot of good relationships with folks both in the House and the Senate. I've got a lot of relationships on both sides of the aisle. It hasn't always manifested itself in the kind of agreements that I'd like to see between Democrats and Republicans. And so, I think all of us has responsibilities to see if there are things that we can improve on.

And I don't exempt myself from needing to do some self reflection and see if I can improve our working relationship. There are probably going to be some very sharp differences. And as I said during the campaign, there are going to be times when there are fights and I think those are fights that need to be had.

But what I think the American people don't want to see is a focus on the next election instead of a focus on them. And I don't have another election. And, you know, Michelle and I were talking last night about what an incredible honor and privilege it is to be put in this position. There are people all across the country, millions of folks who worked so hard to help us get elected, but there are millions of people who may not have voted for us but are also counting on us.

We take that responsibility very seriously. I take that responsibility very seriously. And I hope and intend to be an even better President in the second term than I was in the first. Jonathan Karl?

JONATHAN KARL (ABC NEWS REPORTER): Thank you, Mr. President. Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham both said today that they want to have Watergate style hearings on the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi. And said that if you nominate Susan Rice to become Secretary of State, they will do everything in their power to block her nomination. As Senator Graham said, he simply doesn't trust Ambassador Rice after what she said about Benghazi. I'd like your reaction to that and would those threats deter you from making a nomination like that?

OBAMA: Well first of all I'm not going to comment at this point about various nominations that I'll put forward to fill out my Cabinet for the second term. Those are things still being discussed.

But let me say specifically about Susan Rice. She has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United States with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace. As I've said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.

If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I'm happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the UN Ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence she had received. And to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.

And we're after an election now. I think it is important for us to find out exactly what happened in Benghazi. And I'm happy to cooperate in any ways that Congress wants. We have provided every bit of information that we have. And we will continue to provide information. And we've got a full blown investigation. And all that information will be disgorged to Congress.

And I don't think there's any debate in this country that when you have four Americans killed, that's a problem. And we've got to get to the bottom of it. And there needs to be accountability. We need to bring those who carried it out to justice. They won't get any debate from me on that.

But when they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me. And, should I choose, if think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity of the State Department, then I will nominate her. That's not a determination that I've made yet. Ed Henry.

ED HENRY (FOX NEWS REPORTER): I want to take Chuck's lead and just ask a very small follow-up which is whether you feel you have a mandate, not just on taxes but on a range of issues because of your decisive victory - but I want to stay on Benghazi based on what John asked because you said if they want to come after me, come after me. I wanted to ask about the families of these four Americans who were killed, Sean Smith's father Ray said that he believes his son basically called 9-1-1 for help and they didn't get it. And I know you've said you grieve for these four Americans, that it's being investigated, but the families have been waiting more than two months. So, I would like for you to address the families if you can, on 9/11 as Commander-in-Chief, did you issue any orders to try and save their lives.

OBAMA: Ed, I'll address the families, not through the press, I'll address the families directly as I already have. And we will provide all the information that is available about what happened on that day. That's what the investigation is for.

But as I've said repeatedly, if people don't think that we did everything that we can to make sure that we saved the lives of folks who I sent there and who were carrying out missions on behalf of the United States, then you don't know how our Defense Department thinks or our State Department thinks or our CIA thinks - their number one priority is obviously to protect American lives, that's what our job is.

Now Ed, I will put forward every bit of information that we have. I can tell you that immediately upon finding out our folks were in danger that my orders to my national security team were "do whatever we need to do to make sure they're safe". And that's the same order that I would give any time that I see Americans are in danger, whether they're civilian or military because that's our number one priority.

With respect to the issue of mandate, I've got one mandate. I've got a mandate to help middle class families and families that are working hard to try and get into the middle class. That's my mandate.

That's what the American people have said. They said work really hard to help us. Don't worry about the politics of it. Don't worry about the party interests. Don't worry about the special interests. Just work really hard to see if you can help us get ahead.

Because we're working really hard out here and we're still struggling. That's my mandate. I don't presume that because I won an election that everybody suddenly agrees with me on everything. I'm more than familiar with all the literature about presidential overreach in second terms. We are very cautious about that.

On the other hand, I didn't get re-elected just to bask in re-election. I got elected to do work on behalf of American families, and small businesses all across the country who are still recovering from a really bad recession, but are hopeful about the future. And I am too.

The one thing that I said during the campaign, that maybe sounds like a bunch of campaign rhetoric, but now that the campaign is over I'm gonna repeat it, and hopefully you guys will believe me. When you travel around the country, you are inspired by the grit, and resilience, and hard work, and decency of the American people. And it just makes you want to work harder.

You know, you meet families who are -- you know, have overcome really tough odds, and somehow are making it and sending their kids to college. And you meet young people who are doing incredible work in disadvantaged communities, because they believe in, you know, the American ideal, and it should be available for everybody.

And, you meet farmers who are helping each other during times of drought, and, you know, you meet businesses that kept their doors open during the recession, even though the owner didn't have to take a salary.

And you -- when you talk to these folks, you say to yourself, 'Man, they deserve a better
government than they've been getting. They -- they deserve all of us here in Washington to be thinking every single day, how can I make things a little better for them?'

Which isn't to say that everything we do is going to be perfect, or there aren't just going to be some big, tough challenges that we have to grapple with. But I do know the federal government can make a difference. We're seeing it right now on the Jersey coast and in New York.

People are still going through a really tough time. The response hasn't been perfect, but it's been aggressive, and strong, and fast, and robust, and a lot of people have been helped because of it. And that's a pretty good metaphor for how I want the federal government to operate generally, and I'm going to do everything I can to be sure it does.

Christi Parsons? Hi.

CHRISTI PARSONS (REPORTER): Thank you, Mr. President, and congratulations by the way.

OBAMA: Thanks

QUESTION: One quick follow up...

OBAMA: She was there in -- when I was running for state Senate, so...

QUESTION: That's right, I was.

OBAMA: ... Christi and I go back a ways.

QUESTION: I've never seen you lose.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: I wasn't looking that one time.

OBAMA: There you go.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: One quick follow up, and then I want to ask you about Iran. I just want to make sure I understood what you said. Can you envision any scenario in which we do go off the fiscal cliff at the end of the year? And on Iran, are you preparing a final diplomatic push here to resolve the - the nuclear program issue? And are we headed toward one-on-one talks?

OBAMA: Well obviously, we can all imagine a scenario where we go off the fiscal -- fiscal cliff. If -- if despite the election, if despite the dangers of going over the fiscal cliff and -- and what that means for our economy, that there's too much stubbornness in Congress that we can't even agree on giving middle class families a tax cut, then middle class families are all going to end up having a big tax hike.

And that's going to be a pretty rude shock for them, and I suspect will have a big impact on the holiday shopping season, which in turn will have an impact on business planning and hiring and we can go back into a recession.

It would be a bad thing. It is not necessary. So, I want to repeat. Step number one that we can take in the next couple of weeks, provide certainty to middle-class families, 98 percent of families who make less than $250,000 a year; 97 percent of small businesses; that their taxes will not go up a single dime next year. Give them that certainty right now. We can get that done.

We can then set up a structure whereby we are dealing with tax reform, closing deductions, closing loopholes, simplifying, dealing with entitlements. And I'm ready and willing to make big commitments to make sure that we're locking in the kind of deficit reductions that stabilize our deficit, start bringing it down, start bringing down our debt. I'm confident we can do it.

It's -- and, look, I've been living with this for a couple of years now. I know the math pretty well. And it's - it really is arithmetic. It's not calculus. There are some tough things that have to be done, but there is a way of doing this that does not hurt middle class families; that does not hurt our seniors; doesn't hurt families with disabled kids; allows us to continue to invest in those things that make us grow like basic research and education, helping young people afford going to college.

As we've already heard from some Republican commentators, a modest tax increase on the wealthy is not going to break their backs. They'll still be wealthy. And it will not impinge on business investment.

So -- so we know how to do this. This is just a matter of whether or not we come together and go ahead and say -- Democrats and Republicans, we're both going to hold hands and do what's right for the American people. And I hope that's what happens.

With respect to Iran, I -- I very much want to see a diplomatic resolution to the problem. I was very clear before the campaign, I was clear during the campaign, and I'm now clear after the campaign, we're not gonna let Iran get a nuclear weapon. But I think there is still a window of time for us it resolve this diplomatically. We've imposed the toughest sanctions in history. It is having an impact on Iran's economy.

There should be a way in which they can enjoy a peaceful nuclear power while still meeting their international obligations and providing clear assurances to the international community that they're not pursuing a nuclear weapon. And so yes I will try to make a push in the coming months to see if we can open up a dialogue in not just Iran but the international community to see if we can get this thing resolved. I cant promise that Iran will walk through the door that they will need to walk through but that would be very much the preferable option.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

OBAMA: I won't talk about the details in negotiations but I think its fair to say that we want to get this resolved and we're not going to be constrained by diplomatic niceties or protocols if Iran is seriouS about wanting to resolve this. Uh, they'll be in a position to resolve it.

QUESTION Just prior to the election there were talks that that might be imminent

OBAMA: That was not true and it's not true as of today. Ok?

Uh, just going to knock through a couple of other Mark Landler. Where's Mark?

MARK LANDLER (NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER): Thank you Mr. President. In his endorsement of you a few weeks ago Mayor Bloomberg said he was motivated by the believe that you'd do more to confront the threat of climate change than your opponent. Tomorrow you're going up to New York City which I assume you are going to see people who are still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy which many people say is further evidence of how a warming globe is changing our weather.

What specifically do you plan to do in your second term to tackle climate change and do you think that the political will exists in Washington to pass the legislation that could include some kind of attacks on carbon?

OBAMA: As you know Mark, we can't attribute any particular weather event to climate change. What we do know is that the temperature around the globe is increasing faster than what was predicted ten years ago.

We do know that the Arctic ice cap is melting faster than we even predicted five years ago. We do know that there have been extraordinarily large number of severe weather events here in North America and also around the globe.

And I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence I think we've got an obligation in generations to do something about it. Now in my first term we doubled fuel-efficiency standards on cars and truck. That will have a lot of impact that will take a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere, We double the production of clean energy which promises to reduce the utilization of fossil fuels for power generation.

And we continue to invest in potential breakthrough technologies that could further remove carbon from our atmosphere. But we haven't done as much as we need to so what I'm going to be doing over the next several weeks, next several months is having a conversation with scientist, engineers and elected officials to find out what more can we do to make a short term progress in reducing carbons and then working through an education progress which I think is necessary out of discussion of conversation across the country about what realistically we can do long term to make sure that this is something that we're passing on to future generations, that it is going to be something that is very expensive and very painful to deal with.

I don't know what either Democrats or Republicans are prepared to do at this point. Because this is one of those issues that's just not a partisan issue, I also think there are regional differences. There's no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices, and understandably I think the American people have been so focused and will continue to be focused on the economy and jobs and growth that if the message is somehow we're gonna ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change nobody's gonna go for that.

I won't go for that. If on the other hand we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader I think that's something the American people would support.

So you can expect that you'll hear more from me in the coming months and years on how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and moves this agenda forward

[MUFFLED QUESTION OFF MIC]

I, that I'm pretty certain of. And look we're still trying to debate whether we can ensure that middle class families don't get a tax hike! Let's see if we can resolve that. That should be easy. This one's hard, but its important because one of the things we don't always factor in are the costs involved in these natural disasters.

We put them off as something that's unconnected to our behavior right now and I think based on the evidence we're seeing what we do now is gonna have an impact and a cost down the road if we don't do something about it.

All right last question ... Mark Felsenthal. Where's Mark?

MARK FELSENTHAL (REUTERS REPORTER): Thank you. Mr. President, the Assad regime is engaged in a brutal crackdown on its people. France has recognized the opposition coalition. What would it take for the US to do the same, and is there any point at which the US would consider arming the rebels?

OBAMA: You know, I was one of the first leaders I think around the world who said Assad had to go, in response to the incredible brutality his government displayed in the face of what were initially peaceful protests. Obviously the situation in Syria has deteriorated since then, we have been extensively engaged in the international community as well as regional powers to help the opposition.

We have raised hundreds of millions of dollars of humanitarian aid to help folks both inside and outside of Syria. We are constantly consulting with the opposition on how they can get organized so they're not splintered and divided in the face of the onslaught from the Assad regime.

We are in very close contact with countries like Turkey and Jordan that immediately border Syria and have an impact. And obviously Israel, which is having already grave concerns as we do about for example movements of chemical weapons that might occur in such a chaotic atmosphere.

And that could have an impact not just within Syria but on the region as a whole. I'm encouraged to see that the Syrian opposition created an umbrella group that may have more cohesion than they've had in the past.

We're gonna be talking to them, my envoys are gonna be traveling to various meetings that are gonna be taking place with the international community and the opposition. We consider them a legitimate representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people.

We're not yet prepared to recognize them as some sort of government in exile, but we do think it is a broad-based representative group. One of the questions we're gonna continue to press is making sure that opposition is committed to a democratic Syria, an inclusive Syria, a moderate Syria.

We have seen extremist elements insinuate themselves into the opposition, and one of the things we have to be on guard about particularly when we start arming opposition figures is that we're not indirectly putting arms in the hands of folks who would do Americans harm, or do Israelis harm, or otherwise engage in actions that are detrimental to our national security.

So we're constantly probing and working on that issue. The more engaged we are, the more we'll be in a position to ensure that we are encouraging the most moderate, thoughtful, elements of the opposition that are committed to inclusion, observance of human rights, and working cooperatively with us over the long term.

All right? Thank you very much.

[MUFFLED QUESTION]

OBAMA: That was a great question, but it would be a horrible precedent for me to answer your question just because you yelled it out! [LAUGHTER] So, thank you very much guys.

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