Obama to hold first news conference of the year

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is holding his first news conference of the year in the midst of a modestly improving economy but in the face of international challenges that could test the current recovery as well as his presidency.

The afternoon session with reporters will be Obama's first full news conference since November and is occurring on the same day as the 10-state Super Tuesday Republican primaries.

It comes as Obama's public approval ratings have been improving gradually. He probably will face questions about the pace of the recovery, the presidential election, rising gasoline prices, Iran's nuclear ambitions, relations with Israel and troubles in Syria and Afghanistan.

While aides insisted the timing was coincidental, it follows a pattern of Obama seeking the limelight on the same days as GOP contests.