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Obama to announce Afghan withdrawal at SOTU

A fragile economy and partisan Congress will provide a backdrop for President Obama's annual State of the Union address Tuesday. A fragile economy and partisan Congress will provide a backdrop for President Obama's annual State of the Union address Tuesday.
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WASHINGTON (RNN) - President Barack Obama plans to announce Tuesday at the State of the Union that 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be coming home within a year.

That would cut more than half of the 66,000 remaining and reiterate the administration's plan to finish the war by the end of 2014.

Obama held a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Jan. 11 and discussed turning combat operations over to the domestic military. The White House previously announced a small American presence could remain in Afghanistan, but the complete removal of troops has not been ruled out.

A recent development could also cause the president to make last-minute speech changes. According to CNN, North Korea conducted a new, more powerful underground nuclear test Tuesday.

The test device was "several kilotons," according to U.S. Intelligence.

According to the Associated Press, if the U.S. "makes this situation complex in hostility, we will come up with second and third reactions," North Korea said in a news statement. The decision to go ahead with the nuclear test provided a harsh reminder of a difficult foreign policy challenge for the administration.

"The danger posed by North Korea's threatening activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international community," Obama said in a statement. "The United States will also continue to take steps necessary to defend ourselves and our allies. The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and steadfast in our defense commitments to allies in the region."

Obama will deliver his annual address to one of the most divided sessions of Congress in U.S. history.

The speech comes at a time when hiring has slowed in the still-sluggish economy and the federal government faces the looming threat of across-the-board cuts in entitlements and defense.

Obama will likely tout his administration influence in steady hiring, even though the latest jobs report from the Department of Labor shows that 7.9 percent of Americans are unable to find work and 13.1 percent of job-seeking Americans ages 18 to 29 are unemployed. However, new job growth has slowed significantly compared to one year ago.

The president may also address the potential budget cuts and tax hikes in the form of the "budget sequestration."

Obama senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer hinted that the president will likely urge Congress to avoid the cuts outline in the budget sequester agreement, which are slated to go into effect at the beginning of March, cutting $1 trillion in government spending over the next 10 years and requiring Congress cut an additional $1.2 trillion.

"If Republicans in Congress want spending cuts, there is a simple way to get them that will not imperil our economy, our national security, or vital programs that middle class families depend on: come to the table for a balanced plan that also closes loopholes for millionaires and billionaires," Pfeiffer said in a White House statement Sunday.

"The unbalanced Republican approach does not reflect our values as a nation, and would not help our economy continue the important progress we are making. It's time for Congress to act."

Obama could take the opportunity to urge Congress to break the gridlock on Capitol Hill that is carrying over from his first term.

Thirty-nine days into their term, the 113th Congress was harshly criticized when Republican lawmakers voted against the bill to provide aid for the victims of Superstorm Sandy due to budget concerns.

Although the $51-billion aid bill eventually passed with a 62-36 vote in the Senate, it came more than 10 weeks after the storm devastated parts of New York and New Jersey. In 2005, Congress approved a $60 billion aid package for Hurricane Katrina damage in just 10 days.

If President Obama's inauguration speech was any indication of what his State of the Union address will focus on, Americans should also expect the president to address a range of social issues.

Gay marriage, immigration and gun control were three major issues Obama mentioned in his second inaugural address. The President is expected to expand on the specifics of these issues Tuesday, including potential new gun legislation in wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 20 children and 6 adults dead.

Obama signed 23 executive actions dealing with gun control on Jan 16. However, his State of the Union address is expected to echo Vice President Joe Biden's legislative recommendations to Congress, including laws that would reinstate a ban on "military-style assault weapons" and require universal background checks on all gun sales.

Although White House advisors have suggested that President Obama's speech will focus on economic issues and domestic policy, the address may also touch on international issues.

Recent conflict in Syria and Libya has led U.S. officials to reevaluate diplomatic policies, including foreign affairs intervention and embassy security. Meanwhile, U.S. relations with North Korea continue to deteriorate as leader Kim Jong-un pushes forward with his plans for a nuclear weapons program.

Obama's speech is expected to start at 9 p.m. ET. The Republican response will be given by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) immediately after Congress adjourns.

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