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Obama Renews Promise To Defeat ISIS, Scoffs At Claims Of Election Rigging

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Obama met with his national security team at the Pentagon yesterday to talk about ISIS. He told reporters afterwards that ISIS will be defeated in its strongholds in Iraq and Syria. But even then, he warned ISIS might still be able to inspire lone wolf attacks. The president also took questions about a newly uncovered cash payment to Iran, and he spoke about the people vying to take his job. Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Even as he cataloged the allied offensive against ISIS, President Obama cautioned beating them on the battlefield is not enough. The group is still able to export its murderous ideology, creating the sort of whack-a-mole security threat we've seen from Nice, France to Orlando, Fla.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The reason it's called terrorism, as opposed to just a standard war, is that these are weak enemies that can't match us in conventional power. But what they can do is make us scared.

HORSLEY: Obama says instead of plotting spectacular al-Qaida-style attacks that rely on central planning, ISIS has learned it can capture widespread attention with smaller assaults carried out by a single terrorist or a small group. The president argues America must not let fear sparked by such attacks undermine the values of diversity and pluralism.

In speaking with reporters yesterday, Obama also defended the Iran nuclear deal and a prisoner exchange, which came under renewed scrutiny this week when The Wall Street Journal reported the U.S. had delivered $400 million cash to Iran on the very weekend the American prisoners were set free. Pallets of foreign currency were flown into Tehran aboard an unmarked cargo plane. The president insists that was not a ransom payment despite the cloak-and-dagger circumstances.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: It kind of feels like some spy novel.

HORSLEY: The cash was part of a previously announced $1.7 billion payment to settle a decades-old dispute with Iran over an aborted arms sale. According to The Journal, Justice Department officials did raise concerns about the appearance and timing of the payoff. Obama scoffed at a suggestion from Donald Trump that the November election might be rigged. He stressed that elections are organized at the state and local level, adding the idea of a national conspiracy should not be taken seriously.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HORSLEY: If Mr. Trump is up 10 or 15 points on Election Day and ends up losing, then, you know, maybe he can raise some questions. That doesn't seem to be the case at the moment.

GREENE: In fact, recent polls show Trump trailing Hillary Clinton with three months to go. Earlier this week, Obama declared Trump unfit for the presidency. But he declined to weigh in yesterday on whether Trump could be trusted with America's nuclear arsenal. Instead, the president offered what he hopes is an all-purpose assessment to the GOP nominee, saying voters should listen to what Trump has to say and decide for themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: I obviously have a very strong opinion about the two candidates who are running here. One is very positive and one is not so much.

HORSLEY: Obama notes he has just one vote though, adding, at the end of the day, it's the American people's decision. Soon after that, the president wrapped up his news conference for a birthday dinner. This weekend, he and his family head off for their summer vacation in Martha's Vineyard. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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