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Obama: Ready To Tap Oil Reserve If Needed

President Obama said Friday he is prepared to tap the U.S. emergency oil reserve should the situation demand it. At a news conference, Obama also said the earthquake and tsunami in Japan are a potentially "catastrophic" disaster and the U.S. is prepared to send whatever assistance Japan requests.

No Actions 'Off The Table' On Gadhafi

Obama said the United States and its allies are tightening the noose around Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Obama said other options remain under consideration, including enforcement of a no-fly zone designed to ground Gadhafi's air force. The president said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be meeting with Libyan opposition leaders in the next few days.

"The bottom line is: I have not taken any actions off the table at this point," Obama said.

He cited actions already taken, including new sanctions and the freezing of tens billions of dollars of Gadhafi's assets.

"It is in the United States' interest, and in the interests of the people of Libya that Gadhafi leave," Obama said. "We're going to take a wide range of actions" to try to accomplish that goal, he added.

Obama said he wanted to make it clear to the longtime Libyan leaders "that the world is watching" his brutal response to the rebellions in his country.

The president took issue with the prediction a day earlier by his national intelligence director, James Clapper, that Gadhafi was likely to prevail and remain in power. Obama said Clapper "was making a hardheaded assessment" of Gadhafi's military capabilities but "he wasn't stating policy."

Tapping The Strategic Oil Reserve

Obama said he's prepared to tap the U.S. emergency oil reserve if needed. But as gas prices climbed toward $4 a gallon, the president said the U.S. must adopt a long-term strategy of conservation and domestic production to wean itself off foreign oil.

"We've been having this conversation for nearly four decades now. Every few years gas prices go up, politicians pull out the same political playbook, and nothing changes," Obama said.

"I don't want to leave this to the next president," he said.

Some in Congress have been calling on Obama to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. And the president made clear Friday that that was an option, although he indicated he wasn't yet prepared to exercise it. He declined to specify the conditions that would trigger the step, but said it was teed up and could happen quickly if he chooses to call for it.

The government is cautious about going to the petroleum reserve, typically holding off except in very extreme cases such as Hurricane Katrina.

"If we see significant disruptions or shifts in the market that are so disconcerting to people that we think a Strategic Petroleum Reserve release might be appropriate, we'll take that step," Obama said. Gas prices in the U.S. now average $3.54 per gallon.

Oil prices have surged 24 percent since the middle of February as unrest in the Middle East rattled world markets, although prices slid Friday on the possibility of reduced demand because of the devastating tsunami that hit Japan.

Republicans have sought to blame Obama's policies for the high gas prices, saying he should be allowing more offshore drilling, though experts say more domestic production wouldn't immediately impact prices. Obama rejected that criticism Friday.

Helping Japan Recover And Rebuild

Obama pledged U.S. assistance to earthquake-ravaged Japan.

"Our hearts go out to our friends in Japan and across the region, and we're going to stand with them as they recover and rebuild from this tragedy," he said.

Obama said one U.S. aircraft carrier is already in Japan, and a second is on its way. A U.S. ship was also heading to the Marianas Islands to assist as needed, the president said.

Hundreds were dead or missing in Japan following Friday's 8.9 magnitude earthquake — the largest in Japan's history — and the accompanying tsunami.

Tsunami waves also swamped Hawaii's beaches and grazed the West Coast. Obama said that while there have been no reports of major damage in the U.S., his administration is taking the situation seriously and monitoring developments closely.

Keeping Riders Out Of The Budget

Obama also called on congressional Republicans to negotiate a budget agreement that is free of ideological measures unrelated to the costs of running the government.

Among the measures House Republicans had included in their spending plan were provisions that would have prevented enforcement of certain environmental regulations.

Obama defended his role in helping achieve a deal. Some Democrats have called on him to become more engaged in the discussions.

He said Democrats and Republicans will have to compromise on "prudent" cuts. But he said he would oppose cuts to education programs that were included in a House Republican measure that the Senate rejected this week.

This program aired on March 11, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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