President-elect Barack Obama said Tuesday he is "very concerned" about the loss of life in Israel and Gaza and is closely monitoring the situation, but he once again deferred to President Bush on the matter, saying when it comes to foreign policy the U.S. has just one president at a time.
Obama spoke as Israel continued to pound Hamas targets in the Gaza strip in response to rocket-fire into southern Israel. Israeli officials said that Israel Defense Forces returned volley at a U.N. school after taking "hostile fire." The return fire set off multiple explosions that killed 34 and injured dozens more, according to Palestinian medics.
Obama said he will have plenty to say about the situation in the Mideast once he becomes president on Jan. 20. For now, though, he said he is "deeply concerned about the conflict taking place there."
"I am being fully briefed and monitoring the situation on a day-to-day basis. The loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of concern to me. ... I am not backing away at all from what I said during the campaign, that starting at the beginning of our administration we are going to engage effectively and consistently in trying to resolve the conflicts that exist in the Middle East," Obama said. "I think it's not only right for the people of that region, it's right for the national security of the American people."
Obama has been receiving briefings from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was headed for the U.N. in New York on Tuesday to try to negotiate terms of a lasting cease-fire. Obama and Rice last spoke on Monday, according to the State Department.
Speaking to reporters from his transition office in Washington, Obama also addressed the dismal economic conditions in the U.S. He said he didn't want to get into specific budget numbers because the proposal is still being worked out with lawmakers and has yet to be submitted for debate, but he expects a trillion-dollar deficit before the next fiscal-year budget is even proposed.
He also pledged his stimulus plan, which many others have pegged at about $775 billion, will not include pork-barrel projects.
The package will set a "new higher standard of accountability, transparency and oversight. We are going to ban all earmarks, the process by which individual members insert projects without review," he said. "We're not having earmarks in the recovery package. Period."
A transition official said Tuesday that Obama is planning to establish an oversight board to meet publicly and issue reports to Congress on how the money is being spent.
Obama also would not announce whether Leon Panetta will be named director of the CIA, but he said he has the "utmost respect" for former President Bill Clinton's chief of staff.
"I think he is one of the finest public servants that we have. He brings extraordinary management skills, great political savvy, an impeccable record of integrity," Obama said. "Having said all that, I have not made an announcement. When we make the announcement, I think people will see that we are putting together a topnotch intelligence team that is not only going to ensure that I get the best possible intelligence unvarnished -- that the intelligence community is no longer geared toward telling the president what they think the president wants to hear, but they bring the information the president needs to make ... the American people safe."