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Obama Says No Security Breach In Petraeus Affair, Promises Answers On Libya

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference in the East Room of the White House on November 14.
WASHINGTON -- In his first press conference since winning reelection, U.S. President Barack Obama said he has seen "no evidence" that the e-mail sex scandal that brought down CIA director and former Iraq and Afghanistan commander General David Petraeus has hurt national security.

Petraeus resigned from his Central Intelligence Agency post on November 9 after admitting that he had engaged in an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, who is being investigated for possessing classified documents.

Obama praised Petraeus, who also served under former President George W. Bush, as someone who had "an extraordinary career."

He said Petraeus has "served this country with great distinction in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and as head of the CIA. By his own assessment he did not meet the standards that he felt were necessary as the director of the CIA with respect to this personal matter that he is now dealing with, with his family, and with his wife."

In the wide-ranging, 45-minute press conference, Obama told reporters that his administration was cooperating fully with Congress in its investigation into the September 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

The White House is conducting its own investigation into the attack, which it blames on an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group.

Defends UN Ambassador

Obama also struck back at Republicans who have maligned U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice for her early mischaracterization of the incident as stemming from spontaneous protests over an anti-Islam video on the Internet.

"If Senator [John] McCain and Senator [Lindsey] Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me, and I'm happy to have that discussion with them," Obama said.

"But for them to go after the UN ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous."

Rice is being considered as a possible successor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Obama said he would not let Republican opposition stop him from nominating her if he decided she is the best person for the job.

Republicans have called the Benghazi incident an intelligence and security failure by the Obama administration.

Earlier in the day, McCain called for the formation of a special congressional committee to investigate the matter. He said a special joint inquiry was needed because "there is no credibility amongst most of us concerning the administration and the numerous controversies and contradictions that have been involved in their handling of this issue."

McCain said legislators wanted to know why security at the consulate wasn't strong enough to repel the attack and why previous requests for additional security were ignored, among other things.

Tehran 'Won't Get Nuclear Bomb'

On Iran, Obama was asked whether he would make a major diplomatic push in his second term to break the standoff over its nuclear program.

"We're not going to let Iran get a nuclear weapon, but I think there's still a window of time for us to resolve this diplomatically. We've imposed the toughest sanctions in history. It is having an impact on Iran's economy," Obama said.

"There should be a way in which they can enjoy peaceful nuclear power while still meeting their international obligations and providing clear assurances to the international community that they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon."

Obama also said the United States was not ready to recognize the newly organized Syrian opposition as a government in exile, as France has, but did "consider them a legitimate representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people."

On the issue of the looming domestic economic crisis, Obama said he was open to new ideas on how to raise revenue to reach agreement with Republicans, who oppose any tax increases.

But he reminded reporters that he had campaigned on the idea of raising taxes on the wealthy and that on Election Day, "more Americans agreed with me."