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Obama ready for prime time

WASHINGTON, Mar 24 – President Barack Obama on Tuesday is to sharpen his effort to rally Americans behind his roadmap for recovery and ambitious reform budget in a prime-time televised press conference.

The showpiece White House event is the culmination of a week-long public relations offensive designed to raise Obama\’s agenda above the clamor of a row over AIG bonus payments and Republican carping at his sweeping spending plans.

The news conference, at 8 pm (0000 GMT), in the historic East Room of the White House, follows the president\’s interviews on iconic network programs "The Tonight Show" and "60 Minutes" and a swing through California last week.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama would use his second full-scale presidential news conference to forge a connection with Americans he is trying to shepherd through the worst economic crisis in generations.

"I think the president believes that a continued dialogue with the American people about where we are and where we\’re going is necessary … to give people a sense of what we\’re doing and a sense of where we\’re going," Gibbs said.

"They may or may not like all the decisions that he makes, but I think he believes it\’s important that they understand why he\’s making the decisions that he is."

The encounter will also mark a political pivot point from the largely domestic focus so far of Obama\’s two months in office to the international drive to end the crisis and the crowded US foreign policy agenda.

Obama\’s next big tests include the debut of a new Afghan war strategy expected later this week and his first big steps on the world stage beginning at next week\’s G20 summit in London and a tour of Europe and Turkey.

To prepare the groundwork for the meeting of developed and developing nations on April 2, Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke Monday by telephone and also discussed Iran and Afghanistan, the White House said.

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Obama\’s visit to Britain also includes crucial first encounters with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russia\’s President Dmitry Medvedev.

The press conference will take place a day after the president detected "glimmers of hope" in the housing sector and stocks soared nearly seven percent at the debut of his new bank rescue, in a rare moment of respite for his young administration.

The president said he was "very confident" in the effort to revive banks by offering government incentives for private investors to buy up to a trillion dollars in toxic assets which choked lending and sparked the recession.

"We believe this is one more element that is going to be absolutely critical in getting credit flowing again," said Obama after meeting his top economic advisors at the White House.

"It\’s not going to happen overnight, there is still great fragility in the financial systems but we think that we are moving in the right direction."

For Americans who have watched helplessly as their retirement savings evaporated in the stock market crash, there was good news, for once on Monday as the Down Jones Industrial Average shot up nearly 500 points and extended a two-week rally.

Meanwhile, housing starts — or privately owned new homes on which construction has started — soared 22.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual 583,000 units after seven months of decline, the Commerce Department said.

Since taking office two months ago, Obama has framed a 787 billion dollar economic stimulus law packed with tax cuts and infrastructure spending, a mortgage foreclosure plan, and an effort to ignite lending on auto and student financing and incentives for the development of a new green energy industry.

"Because of the work that\’s already been done, you are starting to see glimmers of hope in the housing market that stabilization may be taking place," Obama said.

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"We\’ve still got a long way to go, and we\’ve got a lot of work to do," Obama said.

"But I\’m very confident that, with the team that we\’ve got assembled, we\’re going to be able to make it happen," he added, in what appeared to be another warm endorsement of the embattled Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

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