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Obama Outlines ISIS Strategy At Press Conference In Argentina


President Obama tried today to reassure Americans who are rattled by the deadly terror attacks in Brussels. He says the administration is doing all it can to defeat the Islamic State and to prevent similar attacks here in the United States. And he rejected a proposal from GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz for stepped up police patrols in Muslim neighborhoods. NPR's Scott Horsley has more.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: For President Obama, a reporter's question about the terror attacks today offered a kind of do-over, if not in the way he actually approaches ISIS, at least in the way he talks about it. Obama was criticized last fall for his initial public statements on the Paris attacks, statements which struck some as cold and dismissive. Today, he went out of his way to acknowledge how frightening TV images of the Brussel attacks can be.


BARACK OBAMA: I've got two young daughters who are growing up a little too fast, and I want them to have the freedom to move and to travel around the world without the possibility that they'd be killed.

HORSLEY: Obama who has sometimes appeared in the past to minimize the threat posed by ISIS said repeatedly today it's his number one priority.


OBAMA: There's no more important item on my agenda than going after them and defeating them. The issue is, how do we do it in an intelligent way?

HORSLEY: Obama says he's open to minor adjustments in his counter-ISIS strategy, but he remains wary of any approach that appears to demonize Muslims generally. He insists Muslim-Americans are generally successful, patriotic and integrated in the broader community.


OBAMA: They do not feel ghettoized. They do not feel isolated. Their children are our children's friends going to the same schools. They are our colleagues in our workplaces.

HORSLEY: Obama argues any policy that discriminates against Muslims is not only un-American but counterproductive. GOP presidential hopeful Ted Cruz suggested this week that law enforcement should increase its efforts to, quote, "patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods" here in this country before they become - in his words - radicalized. Cruz defended that proposal this morning in an interview on CBS.


TED CRUZ: And I'll tell you this. I will apologize to nobody for how vigorous I will be as president fighting radical Islamic terrorism, defeating ISIS and keeping America safe.

HORSLEY: Obama, who was traveling in Cuba earlier this week, dismissed Cruz's suggestion as contrary to American values.


OBAMA: I just left a country that engages in that kind of neighborhood surveillance, which, by the way, the father of Sen. Cruz escaped for America, the land of the free.

HORSLEY: While he was in Cuba, Obama spoke by telephone with the Belgian Prime Minister. But he didn't cancel a speech to the Cuban people or skip a scheduled baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team. Some critics, including Cruz and other Republican candidates, suggested Obama should have altered his Cuba plans in response to the Brussels attacks, but Obama says that would have sent the wrong message to the killers.


OBAMA: We defeat them in part by saying, you are not strong. You are weak. We send a message to those who might be inspired by them to say you are not going to change our values.

HORSLEY: Obama implicitly acknowledged today there may be more attacks, not because he doesn't take the threat seriously, but simply because it's hard to stop every would-be terrorist who's willing to die. It's important, the president says, that Americans not amplify those attacks by overreacting or responding out of fear. Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.