U.S. Offers Japan Assistance In Wake Of Devastation

At a press conference Friday, President Obama offered to provide Japan with any assistance it needs in the wake of a deadly earthquake and tsunami. Obama also took questions on Libya, the federal budget, and the rising price of gasoline.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

President Barack Obama has offered to provide Japan with any assistance it needs following yesterday's deadly earthquake and tsunami. Mr. Obama telephoned the Japanese prime minister hours before a White House news conference yesterday.

In that news conference, Mr. Obama took questions on Libya, the federal budget, and the rising price of gasoline.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama says he's heartbroken by the images of destruction in Japan, but he quickly praised the resourcefulness and experience of the Japanese people, saying their country will rebuild.

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President BARACK OBAMA: Japan, I'm sure, will come back stronger than ever, hopefully with our help.

HORSLEY: The U.S. already has one aircraft carrier in Japan that can provide assistance. A second is on the way.

The earthquake forced the White House to amend its script for yesterday's news conference, which was originally called to address a big domestic concern: rising gas prices. High prices at the pump empty consumers' wallets and damage their confidence. They could also be a political liability for Mr. Obama.

Republicans and the oil industry have accused the president of deliberately restricting domestic oil production. Mr. Obama denies that, noting that U.S. oil output last year was the highest since 2003. He also complained U.S. energy policy has not evolved very much in four decades.

President OBAMA: Every few years, gas prices go up. Politicians pull out the same old political playbook. And then nothing changes.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says he's eager to boost domestic oil production in the short run but adds eventually, the U.S. needs to increase efficiency and develop alternative sources of energy.

Pres. OBAMA: T. Boone Pickens, who made his fortune in the oil business - and I don't think anybody would consider him unfriendly to drilling - was right when he said that this is one emergency we can't drill our way out of.

HORSLEY: Today's high oil prices are largely the result of the turmoil in Libya, where Moammar Gadhafis troops have been striking back at rebel forces on the ground and from the air. Mr. Obama said the Libyan leader is increasingly isolated and that his government will be held accountable.

Pres. OBAMA: I continue to believe that not only the United States but the international community has an obligation to do what it can to prevent a repeat of something like what occurred in the Balkans in the '90s, what occurred in Rwanda.

HORSLEY: NATO meets next week to discuss a possible no-fly zone for Libya. Mr. Obama remains cautious, though, about any commitment of U.S. military forces.

The federal government is again facing a possible shutdown next week, unless Congress can reach agreement on a new spending plan. This week, the Senate rejected both a Republican budget that would cut spending $61 billion below last year's level, and a Democratic alternative with much smaller cuts.

Mr. Obama says one more stopgap spending bill may be needed to buy time for negotiations. After that, he says, Congress should agree on a plan to fund the government for the next six months.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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