WASHINGTON  - US President Barack Obama on Saturday expressed his determination to continue outreach to his Republican opponents in order to facilitate approval by Congress of his key agenda items.

The pledge came after the president met key Republican lawmakers this week to discuss a range of issues including drastic budget cuts known as "the sequester," gun violence, the economy and immigration reform.

"Making progress on these issues won't be easy," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. "But I still believe that compromise is possible. I still believe we can come together to do big things. And I know there are leaders on the other side who share that belief."

On Wednesday, in a rare break from the rancor that has driven two years of paralyzing Washington rows over taxes and spending, the president met a dozen Republican senators for dinner at an exclusive Washington hotel a few blocks north of the White House.

The group included Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, Pat Toomey, Bob Corker and Tom Coburn, congressional sources and Obama aides said. The White House also said Obama footed the bill.

The next day, Obama took his political charm offensive up another notch, welcoming at the White House Paul Ryan, a former vice presidential Republican nominee and author of a bold, but controversial plan to put the nation's finances in order.

The meeting, which also included Democratic House budget committee member Chris Van Hollen, focused on ways to rein in budget deficits and cut the $16.4 trillion national debt.

In his address, Obama gave an upbeat assessment of these contacts and vowed to continue them.

"We had an open and honest conversation about critical issues like immigration reform and gun violence, and other areas where we can work together to move this country forward," the president said. "And next week, I'll attend both the Democratic and Republican party meetings in the Capitol to continue those discussions."

He said he was confident Democrats and Republicans could agree what kind of goals they wanted to pursue.

"A strong and vibrant middle class," said Obama. "An economy that allows businesses to grow and thrive. An education system that gives more Americans the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future. An immigration system that actually works for families and businesses. Stronger communities and safer streets for our children."

Though Republicans have publicly welcomed signs of Obama's outreach, the differences between the two sides remain deep.

After securing higher tax rates for the wealthy last year, Obama wants to raise revenues through closing tax loopholes used by the rich and corporations to combine with reductions in spending to reduce the deficit.

Many Republicans however warn that they will not permit any tax increases.

The question now is whether Republicans could be persuaded to raise more revenue in a large deal encompassing reforms to entitlement social programs dear to Democrats or in a sweeping reform of the tax code.

The president's outreach followed sharp criticism from former election campaign rival Mitt Romney, who argued in a television interview last week that Obama was squandering a "golden moment" to fix the nation's fiscal problems because he was too focused on winning a political victory.

"The president is the leader of the nation," Romney said. "The president brings people together, does the deals, does the trades, knocks the heads together; the president leads. And I don't see that kind of leadership happening right now."