With joblessness rising, President Barack Obama said Thursday he was "deeply concerned" about unemployment and conceded that too many families are worried about "whether they will be next" to suffer economically.
In a White House interview with The Associated Press, Obama said that since he took office, "we have successfully stabilized the financial markets," and "started to see some stabilization on housing."
"But what we are still seeing is too many jobs lost," said Obama, commenting after new government figures showed the unemployment rate last month.
On an important international subject, Obama is scheduled to travel to Russia next week, and he said the agenda includes talks on a new treaty to curtail long-range nuclear missiles. Asked why he intends to meet with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the former president, Obama said he "still has a lot of sway." Putin now is nominally the second-in-command in the Kremlin.
Obama also is to meet with the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev.
It is important that both Medvedev and Putin hear the same message from the U.S., said Obama, who added that he believes Putin "has one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new."
Obama praised Russia for its cooperation in attempting to persuade North Korea and Iran to abandon their nuclear development programs. The United Nations recently approved "the most robust sanction regime that we've ever seen with respect to North Korea," he said.
Asked if he was resigned to Iran's possession of nuclear weapons, he said, "I'm not reconciled with that, and I don't think the international community is reconciled with that."
Obama spoke sympathetically of white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., who won a Supreme Court case this week after claiming they had been unfairly denied promotions because of their race. But he added, "Keep in mind the Supreme Court didn't close the door to affirmative action" to help minorities.
At the same time, he conceded the justices were "moving the ball" on the issue with a 5-4 ruling in the case.
Obama, a former teacher of constitutional law, said, "I've always believed that affirmative action was less of an issue or should be less of an issue than it has been made out to be in news reports. It hasn't been as potent a force for racial progress as advocates will claim and it hasn't been as bad on white students seeking admissions or seeking a job as its critics say."
Asked about his plans for detainees currently held at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the president said the idea of indefinite detention being part of his legacy as president "gives me huge pause."
But he also said there are some detainees who don't fall neatly into existing categories for criminal prosecution in the United States or under international law. He said dealing with them is going to be one of the biggest challenges of his administration. He said he's not comfortable with mandating indefinite detentions on his own through executive orders, but he didn't explicitly rule that out.
And his view of Michael Jackson, whose death has dominated news coverage for nearly a week: The president said Jackson was "one of our greatest entertainers" and "I still have all his stuff on my iPod." But he said Jackson's life had been tragic and in many ways sad.
On light subjects:
The president spoke enthusiastically of the White House pastry chef. "Whatever kind of pie you want, he will make it," Obama said, adding ruefully that that was a problem for him and wife Michelle in regard to their weight.
Asked whether he was a bigger fan of Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan, one the reigning MVP of the National Basketball Association and the other a retired superstar, the basketball-playing president said without hesitation: "Michael. I haven't seen anybody match up with Jordan yet."