WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said Friday that it was appropriate for the U.S. to take a pause and reassess its relationship with Russia, given what he called Cold War-era thinking by President Vladimir Putin.
Obamas remarks on Putin were his first on the sharp rebuke he delivered to the Russian president earlier this week, calling off a planned meeting in Moscow . He said theyd failed to reach progress on a host of issues, unlike achievements he said hed been able to reach with former President Dmitry Medvedev.
Were going to assess where the relationship can advance U.S. interests and increase peace and stability and prosperity around the world, Obama said. Where (we) can, were going to keep on working with them. Where we have differences, were going to say so clearly.
Obamas remarks came in a wide-ranging news conference delivered the day before the first family leaves for vacation on Marthas Vineyard. The president, who hadnt held a full-fledged news conference since April, fielded questions for an hour. He grew particularly animated as he lambasted congressional Republicans for what he called an ideological fixation on repealing his signature health care plan.
The one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people dont have health care, Obama said, accusing Republicans of having no alternative to his plan.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said Republicans were united in . . . repealing and replacing the presidents health care law because it is driving up costs, decreasing access and destroying American jobs.
On another topic, Obama offered a defense of his administrations decision to close embassies in nearly two dozen countries. That move has prompted criticism for its sweeping nature. The State Department announced late Friday that it would reopen 18 of the 19 embassies and consulates that had been closed. The embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, was to remain closed.
He defended his past insistence that his administration has al Qaida terrorists on the run.
Obama called it entirely consistent to say that the centralized, tightly organized al Qaida that attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, is very weak but that regional organizations such as al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula can pose threats, such as driving truck bombs into embassy compounds.
He refused to discuss a recent series of drone strikes in Yemen, despite a May address in which he defended the use of such strikes to kill terrorists as heavily constrained and lawful.
We are not going to completely eliminate terrorism, he said. What we can do is to weaken it and to strengthen our partnerships in such a way that it does not pose the kind of horrible threat that we saw on 9/11.
His remarks on Russia came as Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met in Washington with their Russian counterparts. Kerry sought to downplay the deepening rift between the countries. He noted that he and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are longtime hockey players and we both know that diplomacy, like hockey, can sometimes result in the occasional collision.
One of the factors that triggered the cancellation of the Moscow trip was Russias decision to grant temporary asylum to intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, who Obama said Friday was not a patriot. Yet Obama announced changes to the surveillance programs that Snowden had unveiled.