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Obama: Gap Between Parties 'Too Wide' for Grand Bargain on Budget

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- In an exclusive interview with ABC News, President Obama spoke on a range of high-profile issues, including his outlook for the on-going budget negotiations, whether the Chinese government is behind the recent spate of cyber attacks against U.S. companies, North Korea’s nuclear threats, same-sex marriage, and the conclave to select the next pope.

Obama pessimistic about a grand bargain ahead of meetings with Republican lawmakers.

Ahead of meetings with GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate Wednesday and Thursday, Obama signaled pessimism about the prospect of reaching a grand bargain in the ongoing budget negotiations.  He said that there is not an “immediate debt” crisis and that, ultimately, there may just be too much space between the two parties to reach a deal.

“Ultimately, it may be that the differences are just too wide.  It may be that ideologically, if their position is, 'We can’t do any revenue,' or, 'We can only do revenue if we gut Medicare or gut Social Security or gut Medicaid,' if that’s the position, then we’re probably not gonna be able to get a deal,” the president told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

“That won’t create a crisis,” Obama said.  “It just means that we will have missed an opportunity.  I think that opportunity is there and I’m gonna make sure that they know that I’m prepared to work with them.  But ultimately, it may be better if some Democratic and Republican Senators work together. ”

Examining the possibility of restoring some White House tours.

“What I’m asking them is are there ways, for example, for us to accommodate school groups, you know, who may have traveled here with some bake sales.  Can we make sure that kids, potentially, can still come to tour?” Obama said.

“I’m always amused when people on the one hand say the sequester doesn’t mean anything and the administration’s exaggerating its effects; and then whatever the specific effects are, they yell and scream and say, 'Why are you doin’ that?'” he said.  “Well, there are consequences to Congress not having come up with a more sensible way to reduce the deficit.”

For the first time, Obama publicly declared that the Chinese government is behind recent cyber attacks.

“Well, I think always have to be careful war analogies.  Because, you know, there’s a big difference between– them engaging in cyber espionage or cyber attacks and obviously a hot war.  What is absolutely true is that we have seen a steady ramping up of cyber security threats.  Some are state sponsored.  Some are just sponsored by criminals,” Obama said.

Stephanopoulos asked the president to clarify that some were indeed state sponsored.

“Absolutely,” Obama responded.

“We don’t like margin of error” with regards to North Korea’s nuclear capacity.

Stephanopoulos asked the president if he believed North Korea could now make good on their threats of nuclear action against South Korea and the United States.

“They probably can’t, but we don’t like margin of error,” Obama began.  But when pressed if it was really that close, he rephrased his response.

“It’s not that close.  But what is true is, is they’ve had nuclear weapons since well before I came into office.  What’s also true is missile technology improves and their missile technology has improved,” the president said.

“Now, what we’ve done is we’ve made sure that we’ve got defensive measures to prevent any attacks on the homeland.  And we’re not anticipating any of that.  But we’ve seen outta the North Koreans is they go through these periodic spasms of provocative behavior,” he added.

Stephanopoulos asked the president if he believes these recent threats are more serious than previous threats.

“Well, I don’t necessarily think it’s different in kind.  They’ve all been serious.  Because when you’re talking about a regime that is oppressive towards its people, is belligerent has shown itself to sometimes miscalculate and do things that are very dangerous that’s always a problem,” Obama said.

Obama “couldn’t imagine circumstances” where a state ban on same-sex marriage was constitutional.

Ahead of the Supreme Court arguments on same-sex marriage scheduled for the end of the month, Stephanopoulos asked the president if he still believed that the issue was best left to the states, or if he felt that same-sex marriage was a right guaranteed by the constitution.

“Well, I’ve gotta tell you that in terms of practical politics, what I’ve seen is a healthy debate taking place state by state, and not every state has the exact same attitudes and cultural mores,” Obama said.  “What I also believe is that the core principle that people don’t get discriminated against. That’s one of our core values.  And it’s in our constitution.”

The president said he personally could not see a scenario where a state has a legal justification for banning same-sex marriage.

“What I believe is that if the states don’t have a good justification for it, then it probably doesn’t stand up to constitutional muster,” he said.

Stephanopoulos asked: "Can you imagine one?"

“Well, I can’t, personally.  I cannot.  That’s part of the reason I said, ultimately, I think that, you know, same-sex couples should be able to marry,” Obama said.

Obama rejected concerns that an American pope would be too closely aligned with the U.S. government.

Turning across the Atlantic to the papal conclave happening this week, Obama rejected the notion held by some cardinals that an American pope would be too closely aligned with the U.S. government -- an argument frequently used against American cardinals who might be considered contenders for the papacy.

"The conference of Catholic bishops here in the United States don’t seem to be takin’ orders from me,” he said.  “My hope is based on what I know about the Catholic Church and the terrific work that they’ve done around the world.”

Stephanopoulos' full interview with Obama will air Wednesday night on ABC's Nightline.  You can read the full transcript of the interview here.

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