Signs of economic progress

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama on Tuesday told his crisis-weary nation he sees signs of economic progress but pleaded for time to navigate out of the worst financial maelstrom in decades.

Mr Obama used a prime-time news conference to tout his US$3.6-trillion (S$5.44 trillion) budget as the key to national recovery, during an intense week of economic and foreign policy rollouts ahead of his first big trip abroad next week.

The president said his government, in its first two hectic months in office, had framed a comprehensive strategy to attack the crisis on 'all fronts'. 'It's a strategy to create jobs, to help responsible homeowners, to restart lending, and to grow our economy over the long term. And we are beginning to see signs of progress.

'We'll recover from this recession, but it will take time, it will take patience,' Obama said at his second full-blown press conference.

The president said his budget, which opposition Republicans argue will run up huge deficits for years, would create clean energy jobs, promote a highly skilled workforce and make health care affordable.

'That's why this budget is inseparable from this recovery - because it is what lays the foundation for a secure and lasting prosperity.' Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, fresh from outlining long-awaited details of a banking rescue, asked Congress Tuesday for unprecedented powers to seize non-bank financial firms if needed to maintain stability.

Obama anticipated 'strong support from the American people and from Congress to provide that authority' so that a non-banking company such as giant insurer American International Group cannot hold the entire economy hostage.

The showpiece White House press event was the culmination of a week-long public relations offensive designed to raise Obama's agenda above the clamor of a row over AIG bonus payments and doubts about his recovery plans.

The news conference followed the president's interviews on iconic network programs 'The Tonight Show' and '60 Minutes' and a swing through California last week.

Obama next week takes his first big steps on the world stage at the Group of 20 summit in London on April 2 - when he will have his first encounters with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

He will then go to a NATO summit on the France-German border on April 3 and 4, visit the Czech Republic and then go to Turkey in his first visit to a Muslim nation as president. -- AFP


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