WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama says 2014 could be a "breakthrough year" for the United States.
At the start of his year-end news conference on December 20, Obama said the United States is heading into 2014 with a stronger economy.
The president spoke to the media as the first year of his second term in office draws to a close.
Obama, whose poll ratings have been consistently dropping recently, admitted setbacks, including problems with his signature healthcare reform plan and said a lot of initiatives had not moved as fast as he would have liked.
Addressing the issue of electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA), Obama said that, by leaking secret information about U.S. surveillance of citizens and foreign officials worldwide, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden had hurt American interests.
Obama said the disclosures have opened up an "important" debate about balancing national security needs and personal privacy. But he said the revelations about widespread U.S. collection of global phone and internet data have "done unnecessary damage to U.S. intelligence capabilities and U.S. diplomacy."
Obama said some changes could be imposed on the information collecting activities of the National Security Agency.
But he said America can’t "unilaterally disarm" its intelligence services in the face of continuing threats.
Obama declined to say whether he would consider granting Snowden, who has asylum in Russia, immunity from prosecution in the United States.
Obama also said he saw no need to impose new sanctions on Iran at this stage, warning that they could derail diplomatic efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program.