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Obama fends off Geithner doubters

Tim Geithner (l) and Barack Obama
Two months after inauguration, questions are being asked

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will not be allowed to resign amid criticism of his short term in office, President Barack Obama has said.

Mr Obama told CBS News he would turn down any offer by Mr Geithner to quit, and would tell him: "Sorry, buddy, you've still got the job."

But Mr Obama stressed that the pair had not spoken about the possibility.

Mr Geithner has come under fire as controversy rages over the scale of bonuses paid by bailed-out insurer AIG.

Questions have been asked over how much the treasury secretary knew about the extent of bonus payments, which were revealed on Saturday to total $218m (150m), some $53m more than the previously-publicised figure of $165m.

Mr Geithner has already made headlines for the wrong reasons during his short time in Mr Obama's administration.

During his Senate confirmation hearings it emerged that he had failed to pay social security payroll taxes when he was an official at the International Monetary Fund.

'Get out more!'

Mr Obama has repeatedly defended Mr Geithner throughout the week, and assured his interviewer from CBS News there was no chance the treasury chief could step down just two months after Mr Obama's inauguration.

It's going to take a little bit more time than we would like to make sure we get this plan just right
US President Barack Obama

Instead, the president - giving his longest interview since taking office, to the 60 Minutes TV show - stressed the efforts being made by his administration to push through difficult financial and economic stimulus plans in the face of a sharp recession.

He defended both his economic stimulus plan and his $3.55 trillion budget for the coming year, and said criticism of the administration's efforts was only natural in tough times.

"It's going to take a little bit more time than we would like to make sure we get this plan just right," Mr Obama said.

"Of course, then we'd still be subject to criticism. What's taken so long? You've been in office a whole 40 days and you haven't solved the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression!"

He also told CBS that Wall Street executives need to get out of New York and acquaint themselves with the problems facing everyday Americans if they are to appreciate the depth of feeling across the nation.

"Because... if you go to North Dakota, or you go to Iowa, or you go to Arkansas, where folks would be thrilled to be making $75,000 a year - without a bonus - then I think they'd get a sense of why people are frustrated."

With anger among many Americans flaring at the scale of the AIG bonus payouts, a group of protesters toured AIG executives' homes in Connecticut on Saturday to deliver letters highlighing the current plight of ordinary families.

President Obama also defended his decision to close the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, brushing off criticism by former Vice-President Dick Cheney.

"How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney?" Mr Obama asked.

"It hasn't made us safer," he said of Guantanamo Bay.

"What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment."

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