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President Obama talks Iran and shutdown, but not NSA spying, in lengthy interview

President Obama talks Iran and shutdown, but not NSA spying, in lengthy interview


No mention of controversy over government surveillance, new leaks

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Obama signs bill Sept. 30, 2013 ((Pete Souza/White House via Flickr)
Obama signs bill Sept. 30, 2013 ((Pete Souza/White House via Flickr)

US President Barack Obama gave an extended sit-down interview to the Associated Press on Friday evening, in which he covered a broad range of topics of national and global concern, including Iran's nuclear ambitions, the historic shutdown of the US federal government — now in its fifth day, and the controversy over the Washington Redskins NFL team's team, a pejorative term for Native Americans.

Noticeably absent from the conversation though, was any discussion of the growing controversy over the NSA's secretive mass online surveillance apparatus. The AP's reporter didn't ask, and President Obama didn't volunteer any opinions or information about the NSA's spying programs, despite a new series of leaked government documents published by the Guardian and the Washington Post on Friday, revealing that the NSA was able to successfully identify some users of the online anonymizing platform known as Tor.

"We are happy to talk about the health care law."

Instead, the president took the opportunity to blast "a small faction" of Republicans in the US House of Representatives for the prolonged shutdown of the federal government that began on Tuesday just after midnight after the House and Senate failed to reach a compromise on a budget bill for 2014. A centerpiece of the conflict has been the President's healthcare reform bill to bring health insurance to many of the 15 million Americans without it, which Republicans oppose. Obama reiterated his steadfast support for the law and the online healthcare exchanges that went live on October 1st, suffering overwhelming demand, long load times, and other glitches in the process. He also said that he was "happy to talk about the health care law," but added:

"We can't establish a pattern where one faction of one party that controls one chamber in one branch of government can basically hold its breath and say, unless we get 100 percent of our way, then we're going to let the entire economy collapse, the entire economy shut down."

The president also discussed what appears to a thawing of long frozen diplomatic relations with the government of Iran, following the election of reformist Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in June. In late September, Obama and Rouhani held the first direct phone call between the leaders of the two governments since 1979. In the AP interview, Obama expressed cautious optimism that Rouhani would be able to work with the US and international community to ensure Iran did not pursue nuclear weapons. "The question now is, can he follow through?" Obama said of Rouhani. "The way the Iranian system works, he's not the only decision maker -- he's not even the ultimate decision maker."

"The question now is, can he follow through?"

Obama said he believed Iran was still at least a year from attaining a nuclear weapon, based on US intelligence. He also said the US would consider keeping troops in Afghanistan past his 2014 withdrawal plan, but that the number would be drastically reduced and that soldiers would be engaged in a "train and advise" mission with the Afghan Army.

Finally, the last major topic that the President covered was the escalating criticism of the name of the Washington Redskins NFL football team, which calls Washington, DC, home. The name uses what many consider to be a derogatory term for Native Americans. "I don't think there are any Redskins fans that mean offense," Obama said, adding. "I've got to say that if I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team -- even if it had a storied history -- that was offending a sizeable group of people, I'd think about changing it." Read the full AP interview here and a summary here.