President Barack Obama on Friday gave his final press conference of 2016 — an event at which he touted the biggest successes of his eight-year administration and lamented ongoing challenges that he said require more work to do.
“This is the most wonderful press conference of the year,” he said at the start. “I’ve got a list of who’s been naughty and nice to call on.”
The president started Friday’s year-end news conference by acknowledging some of his presidency’s greatest successes — starting with the Affordable Care Act, which he said has given millions of Americans health care coverage they would not have otherwise had.
Obama also included in his highlights the reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan — from 180,000 down to about 15,000.– as well as the Iran nuclear agreement and reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.
“By so many measures, our country is stronger and more prosperous than when we started,” Obama said. “You cannot argue that we are not better off. We are.”
The president also acknowledged the May 2012 operation that killed the mastermind of the devastating Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and the Paris climate change agreement that he said “very well may save this planet for our kids.”
The challenges that remain, Obama said, are seen and felt around the world — such as escalating gun violence in the United States, homelessness and famine worldwide, and emerging foreign policy difficulties.
Obama said a broader cease-fire is needed to secure peace in Syria, and that President Bashar Assad’s chief ally, Russia, has been and continues to be a major belligerent force in the matter.
“Regretfully, but unsurprisingly, Russia has continued to block aid to Syria,” he said. “The Assad regime cannot slaughter its way to legitimacy.
“The world should not be fooled.”
Obama said the Syrian conflict is one of the most difficult issues he has faced as president — with the country in its sixth year of civil war, tens of thousands of people suffering on a daily basis, and the Islamic State continuing to exercise influence in the region.
The president said it’s something he has felt politically responsible for.
“I always feel responsible. I felt responsible when kids were being shot by snipers,” he said. “I feel responsible for murder and slaughter that’s taken place in South Sudan that’s not being reported on. … There are places around the world where horrible things are happening. And because of my office, because I’m president of the United States, I feel responsible.
“There’s not a moment during the course of this presidency where I haven’t felt some responsibility.”
While Obama addressed Syria, a member of the press became ill and was attended to by the White House medical staff.
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