December 17, 2016 2:57:39 am
President Barack Obama is expected to face questions about allegations of Russian interference in the US election and about the fall of Aleppo in Syria when he holds his year-end news conference on Friday. Under pressure over Russian hacking, Obama will take questions from reporters just before departing for his annual family vacation in Hawaii. It’s Obama’s final news conference of the year and one his last before leaving office.
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Obama is sure to be asked how the US might be responding to cyberattacks related to the election that the US intelligence community has blamed on Russia. President-elect Donald Trump has rejected that assessment while accusing the Obama administration of trying to delegitimize his election victory.
Ahead of the news conference, Obama vowed that the US would retaliate “at a time and place of our own choosing” but the public might not know the extent of the response, echoing comments he made before Election Day. That vague description has frustrated members of both parties who want a forceful and visible response to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who the White House now suggests was personally involved in approving the hacking.
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“We have been working hard to make sure that what we do is proportional, that what we do is meaningful,” Obama told NPR News. The dispute over Russia’s role has also fueled an increasingly public spat between Obama’s White House and Trump’s team that is threatening to spoil the delicate truce the two men have forged since the election. Obama has insisted his top priority is to ensure a smooth transition of power to Trump.
Trump has been under increasing pressure from both parties to acknowledge Russia’s actions, despite his insistence that he doesn’t believe Moscow was meddling. Trump has rejected the CIA’s assessment that Russia’s aim was to help him win and has argued on Twitter that “these are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
The White House hasn’t commented about what a US response might entail, but options could include a retaliatory cyberstrike on Russian networks or sanctions targeting Putin’s associates. The US already has significant economic sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine. On Thursday, European Union leaders moved to extend Ukraine-related sanctions for another six months.
Obama will also likely face questions about Syria, where US-backed rebels are dispirited as their former stronghold of Aleppo falls to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. An ongoing evacuation of eastern Aleppo was halted Friday amid eruptions of gunfire, the latest harrowing images from the Syrian civil war that have cast a pall on Obama’s failed efforts to resolve that conflict diplomatically. In the NPR interview, Obama sought to contrast Russian interference in the election with “a traditional understanding that everybody’s trying to gather intelligence on everybody else.”
“One of the things we’re going to have to do over the next decade,” he said, is find an international understanding on rules involving what has become “a new game.” Obama said that US officials should not let “the inter-family argument between Americans” obscure the need for people to “stand together” on this issue.
“My view is that this is not a partisan issue,” the president said, exhorting people to “take it out of election season and move it into governing season.”
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