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Obama spoke sympathetically of white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., who won a Supreme Court case this week after claiming they had been unfairly denied promotions because of their race. But he added, “Keep in mind the Supreme Court didn’t close the door to affirmative action” to help minorities.

At the same time, he conceded the justices were “moving the ball” on the issue with a 5-4 ruling in the case.

Obama, a former teacher of constitutional law, said, “I’ve always believed that affirmative action was less of an issue or should be less of an issue than it has been made out to be in news reports. It hasn’t been as potent a force for racial progress as advocates will claim and it hasn’t been as bad on white students seeking admissions or seeking a job as its critics say.”

And his view of Michael Jackson, whose death has dominated news coverage for nearly a week: The president said Jackson was “one of our greatest entertainers” and “I still have all his stuff on my iPod.” But he said Jackson’s life had been tragic and in many ways sad.

With joblessness rising, President Barack Obama said Thursday he was “deeply concerned” about unemployment and conceded that too many families are worried about “whether they will be next” to suffer economically.

In a White House interview with The Associated Press, Obama said that since he took office, “we have successfully stabilized the financial markets,” and “started to see some stabilization on housing.”

“But what we are still seeing is too many jobs lost,” said Obama, commenting after new government figures showed the unemployment rate had risen to 9.5 percent last month.

On an important international subject, Obama is scheduled to travel to Russia next week, and he said the agenda includes talks on a new treaty to curtail long-range nuclear missiles. Asked why he intends to meet with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the former president, Obama said he “still has a lot of sway.” Putin now is nominally the second-in-command in the Kremlin.

Obama also is to meet with the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev.

It is important that both Medvedev and Putin hear the same message from the U.S., said Obama, who added that he believes Putin “has one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new.”

Obama praised Russia for its cooperation in attempting to persuade North Korea and Iran to abandon their nuclear development programs. The United Nations recently approved “the most robust sanction regime that we’ve ever seen with respect to North Korea,” he said.

Asked if he was resigned to Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons, he said, “I’m not reconciled with that, and I don’t think the international community is reconciled with that.”