Washington: President Barack Obama took a victory lap highlighting his successes of 2015 from thawing relations with Cuba to halting Iran’s nuclear programme to bringing China, India and Brazil on board for a historic climate deal.
The Paris climate change agreement “would not have happened without American leadership,” he said addressing a year-end press conference at the White House Friday before flying off to Hawaii for a two-week vacation with his family.
“…working with other countries, culminating in the joint announcement with China, bringing in India, bringing in Brazil and the other big, emerging countries, working with the Europeans and getting this done.”
“And, by the way, the same is true for the Iran nuclear deal. The same is true for the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” said Obama. “The same is true for stamping out Ebola — something, you guys may recall from last year, which was the potential end of the world.”
“This year, what you really saw was that steady, persistent leadership on many initiatives that I began when I first came into office,” he said.
Obama also claimed progress against ISIS, saying the group has lost 40 percent of the area it once held in Iraq and is losing ground in Syria, but acknowledged that the government could not stop all potential strikes in advance.
“We are going to defeat ISIS,” Obama said, insisting that US airstrikes in Syria and Iraq were hitting the group “harder than ever” and were taking the group’s leaders, commanders and forces off the battlefield.
But he warned the group would continue to be a menace: “In any fight, even as you make progress, there are still dangers involved.”
Obama admitted that ISIS’ new focus on orchestrating and inspiring spontaneous terror attacks on the West — often by radicalised individuals — would be much more difficult to stop in advance than the more intricate plots once organized by Al Qaeda.
“It is very difficult for us to detect lone wolf plots or plots involving a husband and wife,” Obama said, referring to the San Bernardino, California, attack by a Pakistani origin couple earlier this month that killed 14 people.
Obama also took a jab at Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying he had predicted that the Russian operation in Syria would not change the shape of the battlefield between Moscow-backed President Bashar al-Assad and his internal foes.
“I do think you have seen from the Russians that after a couple of months they are not really moving the needle that much,” he said.
Obama insisted that he would use his final year to continue to try to close a detention camp for terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, arguing that it remained an important recruiting tool for jihadists around the world.