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Obama says Kerry to 'give me a recommendation' on Keystone project

U.S. President Barack Obama waves before he speaks at McGavock High School in Nashville, January 30, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing
U.S. President Barack Obama waves before he speaks at McGavock High School in Nashville, January 30, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

By Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama made clear he would make the ultimate call on whether to approve the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline from Canada, and played down the number of jobs the project could create in a Fox News interview to air on Monday.

In recent days, officials from the White House and State Department have emphasized Secretary of State John Kerry's role in determining whether the $5.4 billion project should go ahead, and have shied away from describing Obama's role.

Kerry is reviewing an 11-volume environmental impact study, and will seek comment in the next three months from other federal agencies and the public on whether the pipeline is in the national interest.

"The process now goes: agencies comment on what the State Department did, public's allowed to comment, Kerry's going to give me a recommendation," Obama told Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor."

The interview was taped on Sunday, but the Keystone segment is set to air on Monday night.

Obama has said in the past that he believed the pipeline should go ahead "only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."

The huge State Department study released on Friday showed that blocking the pipeline would do little to slow the expansion of Canada's oil sands, although it noted that the crude from the project was more polluting than the oil it would replace in the United States.

Environmental groups have said the project would speed up climate change, while business and labor groups have argued the project would be good for the economy and create jobs. Republicans have led a major push for approval of the pipeline.

In the interview, Obama contested a statement by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly that the project would create 42,000 jobs.

"It's not 42,000," Obama said. "That's not correct. It's a couple thousand to build the pipeline."

The State Department report said the project would support about 42,100 jobs during construction, including about 3,900 construction jobs - about 1,950 a year for what is expected to be a two-year project.

Other jobs would come from suppliers of goods and services to the project and from spending by people working on the pipeline that in turn supports other jobs, the report said.

Once the pipeline is running, it will support about 50 jobs, the report said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Sandra Maler, Ros Krasny and Peter Cooney)