In what is expected to be his final interview of the year, President Barack Obama addressed a wide range of topics on CNN, including North Korea's cyber attack on Sony Pictures, Cuba, Russian President Vladimir Putin, race relations in America, and the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay — a facility he says he will do everything to close.
“I'm going to be doing everything I can to close it," President Obama told Candy Crowley in a interview that aired Sunday. "It is something that continues to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world, the fact that these folks are being held. It is contrary to our values and it is wildly expensive. We're spending millions for each individual there. And we have drawn down the population there significantly.”
The Pentagon said on Saturday that four Afghan prisoners held for more than a decade at Guantanamo have been sent home. Obama vowed to close the facility when he took office in 2009.
President Obama was also asked about last week's historic easing of sanctions against Cuba and the start of talks that may lead to restoring full diplomatic relations between the two countries.
"For 50 years, we've tried to see if we can overthrow the regime through isolation," Obama said. "It hasn't worked. If we engage, we have the opportunity to influence the course of events at a time when there's going to be some generational change in that country. And I think we should seize it, and I intend to do so.”
During the interview, which was taped Friday, the president addressed several other topics that have dominated the headlines recently: North Korea’s cyber attack on Sony Pictures, Russian President Vladimir Putin and race relations in America.
On Sony's decision to pull "The Interview," Obama said he was "pretty sympathetic to the fact that they've got business considerations," but was disappointed the studio did not reach out to him directly.
"Had they talked to me directly about this decision, I might have called the movie theater chains and distributors and asked them what that story was," Obama continued. "But what I was laying out was a principle that I think this country has to abide by. We believe in free speech. We believe in the right of artistic expression and things that powers that be might not like. And if we set a precedent in which a dictator in another country can disrupt, through cyber, you know, a company's distribution chain or its products and, as a consequence, we start censoring ourselves, that's a problem.”
Crowley asked Obama if he considered the cyber attack an act of war.
“No, I don't think it was an act of war," the president said. "I think it was an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionately, as I said.”
In regards to Russia, Obama rejected the notion that Putin is a "chess master" who is "outmaneuvering the West."
"Right now, he's presiding over the collapse of his currency, a major financial crisis and a huge economic contraction," Obama said. "That doesn't sound like somebody who has rolled me or the United States of America."
The president also addressed criticism that his administration has been slow to respond to racial tensions in the wake of police killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City.
"There's no reason for folks to be patient. I'm impatient," he said. "That's why in the wake of what happened in Ferguson and what happened in New York, we've initiated task forces that in 90 days are going to be providing very specific recommendations. On the other hand, I think an unwillingness to acknowledge that progress has been made cuts off the possibility of further progress. If critics want to suggest that America is inherently and irreducibly racist, then why bother even working on it? I've seen change in my own life. So has this country. And those who would deny that, I think, actually foreclose the possibility of further progress rather than advancing it."