WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, in an ABC interview aired on Friday, said the United States must be "very careful" about releasing oil from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve at a time of uncertainty in the Middle East.

"We are monitoring the situation very closely. The strategic petroleum reserve was designed for when oil actually shuts off," Obama told ABC.

"The reserves, I think, are something that we've got to be very careful about. And what we don't want to do is catch ourselves in a situation, particularly when things are uncertain in the Middle East, where we're using it now and it turns out we need more later."

Obama said tax cuts enacted in 2010 have helped buffer the strain on American consumers posed by rising gasoline prices.

The cautious tone of his remarks, in an interview recorded on Thursday, marked a change from a month ago when Obama said a plan to tap the reserve was "teed up" and vowed to move quickly to address rising U.S. gasoline prices.

The United States and its allies have since taken military action in Libya, an OPEC member, and increased pressure on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi at a time of spreading unrest in the Middle East.

The price of oil has since skyrocketed with North Sea Brent crude trading around $122 a barrel on Friday.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Bill Trott)

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