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Obama on presidency: ‘You get better as time goes on’

President Barack Obama believes the U.S. has solid intelligence on when Iran becomes capable of developing a nuclear arsenal, but told Matt Lauer Sunday he still believes negotiations are the only way to achieve long-term peace.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

President Barack Obama has learned a lot about the job he took on in 2008, and nearly four years later, he believes he'll improve.

In a TODAY exclusive, Matt Lauer asked Obama about his supporters' disappointment over his first-term performance — that they believe he hasn't been "the transformational political figure they hoped you would be."

"What's frustrated people is that I have not be able to force Congress to implement every aspect of what I said in 2008," he said.

"That's just the nature of being president," he said. "It turns out that our founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes.

"What I'm going to just keep on doing is plodding away, very persistent. And you know what? One of the things about being president is you get better as time goes on."

In the interview, which was conducted on Sunday before the Super Bowl and aired Monday on TODAY, Obama admitted one challenge he hasn't gotten used to — fielding negativity towards his family.

"As a husband...and a father, one of the things that is toughest for me is that my family gets brought into this political realm which isn't always very pleasant," he told Lauer. "And, you know, it weighs on me."

Following the release of Jodi Kantor's book on the first family, Mrs. Obama has hit back against what she says are inaccurate portrayals of her personality. She's tired of being stereotyped as "some kind of angry black woman," she told CBS News last month.

"Michelle has been as good a First Lady as I think anybody could imagine. I could not be prouder of her. I think she had some reservations about taking on this whole process, going on this journey at the beginning of it. And she's admitted that. She's turned out to be really good."

The president elaborated on Iran's nuclear capability — and how he plans to prevent it. "My goal is to try to resolve this diplomatically, mainly because the only way over the long term we can assure Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon is by getting them to understand it's not in their interest," Obama told Lauer.

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"I think we have a good estimate of when they could potentially archive breakout capacity...but do we know all the dynamics inside of Iran? Absolutely not," he told Lauer. "Knowing who is making the decisions at any given time inside of Iran is tough. But we do have a pretty good bead on what's happening with their nuclear program."

Lauer asked Obama why the United Nations stepped in to help depose Muammar Gadaffi in Libya, but has not taken similar action in Syria — where over the weekend forces have reportedly killed more than 200 citizens as president Bashar Assad's government continues to crack down against an 11-month uprising.

"I said at the time with respect to Libya that we would be making these decisions...on a case by case basis based on how unified the international community was," Obama said. "But we have been relentless in sending a message that is was time for Assad to go, that the kind of violence that we've seen exercised against his own people over this inexcusable.

Story: US shutters embassy in Syria, withdraws all personnel

"The Assad regime is feeling the noose tightening around them. And we're gonna just continue to put more and more pressure until hopefully we see a transition. This is not going to be a matter of if; it's going to be a matter of when."

Obama also addressed his upcoming re-election campaign. Though former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is moving fast toward the Republican nomination, Obama said he isn't ready to make stump speeches just yet.

"I think most people are thinking the election's nine months away — the last thing we need is to start it right now when the other side hasn't determined who the nominee is," he said.

"There's going to be just a lot of money floating around...and I guarantee you a bunch of that's going to be negative," Obama said. "But it's not going to be enough just to say the other guy's a bum. You've got to explain to the American people what your plan is to make sure that there are good jobs and good wages and that this economy is growing over the long term.

Whoever wins that argument I think is going to be the next president."