The Latest: Obama says Syrian peace needed to defeat IS

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Posted: Dec 18, 2015 3:14 PM
The Latest: Obama says Syrian peace needed to defeat IS

WASHINGTON (AP) — The latest from President Barack Obama's year-end news conference with reporters at the White House. All times are local.

3:10 p.m.

President Barack Obama says that to achieve a lasting victory over the Islamic State group, the Syrian civil war needs to end.

At a White House news conference Friday, Obama said "lawless areas" in the Middle East must be eliminated as havens for the extremists.

The president said the Islamic State is still dangerous to the West. He said he intends to keep putting military pressure on the group through airstrikes against its leaders and its forces. He gave no indication that he plans to change his approach in fighting the extremist group in Syria or Iraq.

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3:00 p.m.

President Barack Obama says the Republican Party is an "outlier" when it comes to its position on climate change.

Speaking to reporters at his year-end news conference, Obama says the GOP is only major party in the advanced world that effectively denies climate change.

But Obama says he doesn't think the party will hold to that position.

The president argues that innovation will soon make clean energy cheaper and more politically palatable. He says he's prepared to hear a lot of campaign-year "noise" and opposition to the new international climate change deal he recently negotiated. But he doesn't think a Republican president would actually pull out of the deal.

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2:52 p.m.

Obama is praising new House Speaker Paul Ryan and other top Capitol Hill leaders for the orderly negotiations of the just-passed budget and tax deal.

Obama also gave Ryan's predecessor as speaker, Ohio Republican John Boehner, credit for negotiating the blueprint pact that led to the December deal on the budget, saying the fact that Boehner was going "out the door" helped produce the earlier pact.

As for Ryan, the President said the Wisconsin Republican "has been professional, he has reached out to tell me what he can and cannot do."

Obama noted that the final agreement met his demands on investing in domestic programs and avoiding most of Republicans' ideological policy provisions.

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2:45 p.m.

President Barack Obama says Syrian President Bashar Assad will have to leave if the civil war in Syria is to end and the country is to have a non-sectarian future. But Obama also says that Assad backers like Russia and Iran have equities in Syria that must be protected if they are to support a political transition.

At his final news conference of the year, Obama said Friday that the crisis in Syria could have been blunted if Assad had recognized that he had lost legitimacy as a leader and had stepped down several years ago. Assad's decision to put himself ahead of the best interests of his country is the primary reason for the rise of the Islamic State militant group.

Obama said the most immediate mission in Syria is to end the civil war so that the primary focus can be on fighting the Islamic State group.

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2:40 p.m.

President Barack Obama says closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is part of his counterterrorism strategy.

Obama says the detention center is a "magnet for jihadists."

He says Internet traffic shows extremist groups using Guantanamo to portray the United States at war with Islam. And it is expensive.

But Obama isn't suggesting that he will use executive action to make good on his pledge to shut the facility for terror suspects.

He says its population will be below 100 early next year.

And at some point he says he'll present a plan to skeptical members of Congress on how to close Guantanamo.

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2:30 p.m.

President Barack Obama says law enforcement and intelligence officials are looking for ways to better monitor the public communication of suspected terrorists. But he is warning there are limits to what law enforcement can do.

Obama says no government is going to have the ability to "read every person's text or email or social media, if it's not posted publicly." He says the government must try to strike the right balance between surveillance and civil liberties as it tries to stop terrorists from planning attack.

The president says he thinks so far "we've struck the right balance." He says some of the reporting about the San Bernardino shooters' posting on social media as they carried out the shooting earlier this month "may have gotten garbled."

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2:25 p.m.

President Barack Obama is applauding Congress for passing a $1.1 trillion bill to fund the government and avert the possibility of a shutdown for the first nine months of next year.

At a news conference, Obama said Congress is ending the year on a "high note" and noted the passage of transportation and education bills.

Obama, who is expected to sign it, says he's not "wild about everything" in the spending bill. But he says it is a budget that invests in the U.S. military and the middle class.

He says Congress still needs to promote job growth and increase wages, and he says he wants to work with lawmakers next year to reform the criminal justice system.

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2:15 p.m.

President Barack Obama says 6 million people have signed up for coverage under his health care law so far this year.

Officials say that shows the program is strong and providing consumers with a valuable service.

Thursday was the deadline to enroll for coverage that takes effect Jan. 1.

Through Thursday, 6 million people had signed up in the 38 states using the HealthCare.gov website.

Of these, 2.4 million were new customers. Officials say that's well ahead of new sign-ups at this time last year.

Despite the latest numbers, the administration is not revising its overall enrollment target, which is 10 million paying customers by the end of 2016. That would be a modest gain over this year.

Jan. 31 is the last day to enroll or face potential fines.