Obama: 'Short of going to war' we're constrained on Russia

President Barack Obama said that his administration is constrained in its actions to help defuse the crises in Ukraine and Gaza in a Friday afternoon speech from the White House.

"Apparently people have forgotten that America, as the most powerful country on earth, still does not control everything around the world," he said. "Our diplomatic efforts often take time, they often will see progress and then a step backwards...That's the nature of world affairs: it's not neat and it's not smooth."

President Barack Obama pauses while making a statement in the briefing room of the White House August 1, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images
President Barack Obama pauses while making a statement in the briefing room of the White House August 1, 2014 in Washington, DC.

"There are still going to be tragedies out there, and there are going to be conflicts, and our job is to just make sure that we continue to project what's right and what's just," he said.

Addressing the Ukraine crisis specifically, Obama said "we have made progress in delivering on what we said we would do." But, he noted, "we can't control how Mr. Putin thinks."

"Short of going to war, there're going to be some constraints in terms of what we can do if President Putin and Russia are ignoring what should be their long-term interests," Obama said.

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Turning to the fighting in Gaza, Obama took a firm stance against the Palestinian capture of an Israeli soldier. "I want to make sure that they are listening: If they are serious about trying to resolve this situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released as soon as possible," he said.

Obama also noted that he wants "to see everything possible done to make sure that Palestinian civilians are not being killed, and it is heartbreaking to see what's happening there."

The president took the opportunity to give Secretary of StateJohn Kerry credit for his actions in the Middle East, saying he "has been persistent, he has worked very hard, he has endured, on many occasions, really unfair criticism."

Obama also touted the recent string of positive economic numbers in the Friday address.

"This is the longest streak of private-sector job creation in our history," Obama said. But, he added, there are steps the U.S. could take to improve job growth, if Congress cooperated.

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"The fact is we could be much further along, and we could be doing even better, and the economy could be even stronger, and more jobs could be created, if Congress would do the job that the people sent them here to do," Obama said.

At the end of the press conference, Obama briefly turned to the CIA report admitting that the agency tapped into Senate computers, likening it to discussions about torture earlier in his presidency—the president condemned those actions, but he said that he understands why they happened.

"We did some things that were wrong, and that's what that report reflects," he said.

—By CNBC staff