Security, economy are top priorities, Obama says

President-elect Barack Obama said in an interview broadcast Sunday that since terrorists might try to attack the United States during the White House transition, selecting his national security team is one of his top priorities.

"I think it's important to get a national security team in place because transition periods are potentially times of vulnerability to a terrorist attack," Obama told CBS' 60 Minutes. "We want to make sure that there is as seamless a transition on national security as possible."

In his first television interview since his election, Obama said he has spent the days since the election on short- and long-term issues, from stabilizing the economy, restoring consumer confidence and creating jobs, to getting sound health care and energy policies through Congress. The president-elect also said that as soon as he takes office he will work with his security team and the military to draw down U.S. troops in Iraq, shore up Afghanistan and "stamp out al-Qaida once and for all."

Also Sunday, Obama formally resigned from his Senate seat. He thanked Illinois residents in a nostalgic letter published in Sunday newspapers throughout the state. "I will never forget, and will forever be grateful, to the men and women of this great state who made my life in public service possible," Obama wrote.

While investors are still riding a roller coaster on Wall Street, Obama said the economy would have deteriorated more without the $700-billion bailout. Re-regulation is a legislative priority, he said, not to crush "the entrepreneurial spirit and risk-taking of American capitalism" but to "restore a sense of balance."

"There's no doubt that we have not been able yet to reset the confidence in the financial markets and in the consumer markets and among businesses that allow the economy to move forward in a strong way," Obama said. "And my job as president is going to be to make sure that we restore that confidence."

He also said: "We shouldn't worry about the deficit next year or even the year after. … The most important thing is that we avoid a deepening recession."

While "we have the tools," Obama said not enough has been done to address foreclosures and distressed homeowners.

"We've got to set up a negotiation between banks and borrowers so that people can stay in their homes," Obama said. "… One thing I've determined is that if we don't have a clear, focused program for homeowners by the time I take office, we will after I take office."

Obama credited Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson for trying to remedy "an unprecedented crisis" the country hasn't seen since the Great Depression. A member of the transition team works with Paulson daily, Obama said, getting the needed background and sometimes offering approaches to address the meltdown.

The president-elect confirmed reports that he intends to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and "make sure we don't torture" as "part and parcel of an effort to regain America's moral stature in the world."

Obama also said he plans to put al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in the crosshairs.

"I think capturing or killing bin Laden is a critical aspect of stamping out al-Qaida," Obama said. "He is not just a symbol, he's also the operational leader of an organization that is planning attacks against U.S. targets."

Security, economy are top priorities, Obama says 11/16/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 7:30pm]

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