Obama announces new housing initiatives

President Obama is announcing new mortgage relief for members of the military and veterans as well as homeowners with government-insured loans.

President Barack Obama (File) (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Obama is announcing new mortgage relief for members of the military and veterans as well as homeowners with government-insured loans. The initiatives are the latest administration attempt to help borrowers struggling under a depressed housing market.

Obama spelled out the plan Tuesday at the start of his first news conference of the year.

Borrowers with mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration would be able to refinance at half the fee that the FHA currently charges. The administration says a typical FHA borrower who refinances could save more than $1,000 a year from the changes.

For service members and veterans, Obama says major lenders will review foreclosures or denials of lower interest rates. If wrongly foreclosed upon, service members will be paid their lost equity and receive additional compensation.

Elsewhere, Obama said that unilateral military action by the United States against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad would be a mistake. He says the situation in Syria is more complicated than it was in Libya.

Obama has resisted calls to get drawn into the turmoil in Syria to stop Assad's bloody crackdown on protesters. More than 7,500 people have been killed there.

Obama said at a news conference Tuesday that the international community has not been able to muster a campaign against Syria like the one in Libya that ousted Moammar Gadhafi last year. Russia has blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution against Assad's regime.

Obama's strategy has been to use sanctions and international diplomatic isolation to pressure Assad into handing over power.

Obama said it is his belief that there is a still a "window of opportunity" to use diplomacy instead of military force to resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

Speaking at a White House news conference, Obama also responded to criticism from Republican presidential candidates who say he's been weak on Iran. Obama says presidential candidates don't have "a lot of responsibility" and are not commander in chief.

Obama says the GOP is talking about war in a casual way. He says if his opponents want to launch a war with Iran, they should explain the consequences to the American people.

He reiterates his comments from earlier this week -- that his policy on Iran is not one of containment, but of stopping Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Obama said he called a Georgetown law student who was labeled a "slut" by radio host Rush Limbaugh because he doesn't want people who speak their mind about policy issues to be discouraged or attacked.

Asked to comment on Limbaugh's apology, Obama says he doesn't know "what's in Rush Limbaugh's heart."

Limbaugh apologized to student Sandra Fluke, saying he shouldn't have used the language he did and it was wrong.

Obama said the incident made him think of his two daughters and his hopes that they can engage in issues they care about in the future.

Obama says he doesn't want his daughters "attacked or called horrible names" for speaking their minds and being good citizens.

Obama says the remarks "don't have any place" in public discourse.


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