Obama News Conference Likely to Address Debt, Libya, Afghanistan

President Barack Obama will hold a news conference at 11:30 a.m. Washington time today as his administration arrives at a critical juncture in negotiations over the federal deficit and an increase in the debt ceiling.

Obama also likely will address his plan for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the attack by the Taliban on a hotel in Kabul and the mission in Libya. It will be the president’s first solo news conference since March 11.

The president will appear in the East Room of the White House one hour ahead of a speech at which his top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, is to present the administration’s counterterrorism policy at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

After weeks of talks led by Vice President Joe Biden, Obama has begun directly negotiating with congressional Republicans on a plan to narrow the budget deficit as part of an agreement to raise the government’s borrowing limit.

Obama met for more than an hour on June 27 with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and will meet with Senate Democrats this afternoon.

The clock is ticking closer to Aug. 2 -- the date when, the Treasury Department estimates, the U.S. risks a default on its debt obligations unless Congress increases the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

Debt Talks

White House officials and most Republicans are insisting that they don’t want a short-term agreement, which would force Congress to revisit the debt-ceiling issue later this year or next year as the narrative in Washington shifts toward the 2012 presidential election.

Democrats also insist that significant revisions to Medicare and Social Security are off the table.

On June 23, Obama announced his decision to withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by September 2012 so the U.S. can “focus on nation-building at home” after almost 10 years of war.

Obama’s plan would withdraw 10,000 troops before the end of this year and an additional 23,000 -- the remainder of last year’s troop surge -- by September 2012, as the presidential election campaign kicks into high gear.

Troops in Afghanistan

The president in 2009 ordered deployment of the additional forces to quell a growing Taliban insurgency, and he said last night that the goals set out then largely have been accomplished. Even with the withdrawals, the U.S. will have roughly 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, about twice as many as were there when Obama was elected in 2008. Also in the country are more than 40,000 personnel from 48 other nations, which are making plans to pull back as well.

War weariness has been reflected both in surveys that show a growing desire among Americans for troops to be brought home and in pressure from Congress, including from Obama’s fellow Democrats.

A Bloomberg National Poll conducted June 17-20 found almost one-third of Americans want an immediate withdrawal; 53 percent support withdrawal over the next couple of years.

Illustrating the dangers faced in Afghanistan, the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul yesterday. Zabihullah Mujahed, a spokesman for the Taliban guerrilla movement, said in a telephone interview that the attack was timed for a meeting involving U.S., Afghan and Pakistani officials, with the intent of killing them.

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