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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

President Bush Holds a News Conference

Aired August 21, 2006 - 09:31   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We're awaiting remarks from President Bush. We should be expecting them in just about 30 minutes or so. The fragile cease-fire in the Middle East and Iran, all expected to be on his agenda.
Let's get right to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. She's live at the White House briefing room.

Good morning to you, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

Everybody is anticipating this briefing, about 30 minutes away or so, getting set up for this new briefing room. And the president is going to be walking to the podium very shortly. We're told he's going to have opening remarks about eight to 10 minutes in length. He's going to be talking about that fragile cease-fire you mentioned. The president, of course, is going to be faced with questions whether or not the cease-fire really means very much at all.

You had over the weekend Israel launching a raid in Lebanon. You had the Lebanese prime minister, who says it was a flagrant violation of the cease-fire, and you also have this issue over international troops, whether or not you're going to have the 15,000-strong international force coming in to enforce this cease-fire.

The French, who were really at the forefront of that, essentially are only committing about 200 at this time. So that of course is a big concern of this administration. Secondly, they're looking at the situation with Iran. We heard last week from the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. We heard from the supreme leader as well, both of them rejecting this idea that they'll give up their nuclear- enrichment program by the deadline set which the U.N. Security Council. The administration has essentially kind of diminished that, dismissed that in a way, saying we'll give them until the deadline, October 31st to comply. But it's very clear, Soledad, that that does not seem likely that that's going to happen.

The Bush administration very much in a position here to continue to try to deliver a message that tough sanctions are necessary for this regime -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Suzanne Malveaux for us this morning at the White House briefing room. Obviously when the president's remarks begin, which we're expecting just about 10:00 in the morning, we're going to be checking in with Suzanne as well. RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: One of the things that the president will no doubt will be talking about or asked about is Iran. It certainly is one of the headlines on this day, so let's take you to that country, where just this morning, we heard a defiant message from Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah al-Khomeini.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is the only U.S. network reporter in Iran, and he is joining us now from Tehran to bring us what the reaction is there.

Good morning, Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rick, good morning.

Tomorrow is when Iran says it will officially give its response to the U.N. mandate that it suspend its nuclear program by tend of the month. But as you mentioned, no stronger preview than what we heard today from the country's supreme leader. He is the be all, end all of decisions here, the Ayatollah Khomeini. He said that Iran would go forward with pursuit of nuclear energy. That mimics earlier suggestions we've heard from other government officials that the suspension of uranium enrichment, and in turn, the nuclear program is not on the negotiating table in Iran's view.

Now also we've seen Iran really grow stronger by the day since the Israeli war with Hezbollah. They feel Hezbollah won, that the battle will go on. And amid suggestion that there is might be military strikes on Iran's nuclear facility fit refuses to comply with the U.N., over the weekend, massive military exercises were launched by Iran's armed forces, yesterday tested a number of surface-to- surface missile, the range about 155 miles. They say this is all part after new defensive doctrine. One colonel saying it is mend to respond to any sudden attacks. That is not so veiled a connection to presumed airstrikes that might take place.

So Iran is defiant on two fronts, remaining so on the nuclear diplomatic front, and with these war games sending a message that it is ready for, essentially, anything, Rick.

Aneesh Raman following that story for us from Tehran. We thank you so much for bringing us up to date on that.

Soledad, over to you.

O'BRIEN: All right, thanks, Rick.

A defiant Saddam Hussein back on trial today. The former Iraqi dictator, again, facing genocide charges. Saddam Hussein refused, though, to enter a plea in the case, so the judge had to do it for him, said not guilty. Hussein and six others are facing charges stemming from the killing of as many as 100,000 Kurds back in the late 1980s. We are still awaiting a verdict in the first genocide trial. That's expected sometime in October.

In Iraq, the streets of Baghdad busy again after a two-day lockdown. As many as 20 people killed this weekend during an annual Shiite religious ceremony. Iraqi leaders and even the U.S. military say it could have been much worse.

Let's get right to CNN's Barbara Starr. She's at the Pentagon.

Hey, Barbara. Good morning.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

Well, it could have been much worse, but the pictures of what happened yesterday in Baghdad are troubling enough on their own. Gunmen defying that ban on traffic, gunmen opening up fire in at least half a dozen Baghdad neighborhoods yesterday, people running for their lives. This was during a Shia religious pilgrimage. And there had been a lot of concern about security. At least 20 people were killed according to Iraqi security sources, hundreds injured, some of them in the panic that followed the gunfire that erupted cross Baghdad.

But as you say, both Iraqi and U.S. military officials saying this was a success, because only 20 people died, in their words, so to speak, that the violence could have been much worse. And indeed yesterday the Iraqi minister of industry interviewed on CNN's "LATE EDITION" said, in his view, "There is no civil war in Iraq."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FAWZI HARIRI, IRAQI INDUSTRY PRIME MINISTER: There is no civil war in Iraq, in the sense that we saw in other parts of the world. What we have is a struggle between two completely different ideologies, one that believes in the new dawn of Iraq, the new democracy, the new harmony amongst its people, and an ideology that is determined to stop the people of Iraq from achieving that goal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: Soledad, I think we can only anticipate that President Bush at this upcoming White House press conference is going to be asked his views about whether there is a civil war in Iraq -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I think there's no question about that. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us. The president, we're expecting to hear from him at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time. I'm told he's going to take questions as well.

Looking forward to that -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: United Nations troops are trickling into Southern Lebanon. Some 3,000 have been deployed so far. About one-fifth of the total that's expected. But this weekend's Israeli commando raid on Hezbollah sites has strained the already uneasy cease-fire.

CNN's Anthony Mills is in Beirut.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANTHONY MILLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Lebanon's defense minister, Elias Murr, has delivered a stark warning to anyone thinking of breaching the cease-fire resolution by firing rockets from South Lebanon into Israel.

(voice-over): Defense Minister Murr said that anyone who is caught firing rockets from the south of the country into Israel would be arrested, treated as a criminal, charged and tried in a military court. So stern warning there for anyone thinking of breaking that cease-fire. He did say, however, that he wasn't expecting Hezbollah to be the party to fire rockets into northern Israel. He said that the government, in which there are two Hezbollah ministers, had received assurances from those ministers that Hezbollah would not be firing any rockets, and he said that he trusted Hezbollah on this issue.

There are of course other anti-Israeli groups in Lebanon, Palestinian militant groups, but this really is a blanket warning from the defense minister, saying anyone, anyone at al, will be arrested and tried. This comes amid concerns for the fragile cease-fire that has taken hold between Israel and Lebanon.

Over the weekend, a raid by Israeli commandos targeted a Hezbollah stronghold of Baalbek in the east Bekaa Valley, close to the Syrian-Lebanese border. That raid, in which an Israeli soldier was killed, and in which there was, according to security sources here, a gun battle with Hezbollah militants, has been condemned by Lebanon's prime minister, Fuad Sinora, as a naked violation of the truce. The matter will be discussed this evening at a cabinet session here in Lebanon.

And a short while ago I spoke to a high ranking government source here, who was concerned, he said, by the failure of the United Nations to deploy troops down here in a rapid and concise fashion. So concerns there from the Lebanese government about that slow deployment.

Anthony Mills, for CNN, Beirut.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: All right, thanks, Anthony.

(NEWSBREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, it's a material world for Hilary and Haley Duff. The new sisters have a new movie out. It's called "Material Girl." They're tell us about their movie and their bond, their strong bond in real life, just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: In A.M. Pop this morning, it is the end of summer. Just the perfect time for some light movies. Well, material girls is the story of two sisters. They're played by real life sisters, Hilary and Haley Duff. And we sat down with them to talk about the movie, talk about what it's like to work with your sister, and what it's like growing up in the spotlight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Hilary and Haley Duff play the Marchetta (ph) sisters, privileged girls who are left with nothing after their father's cosmetic companies comes under attack, and they have to fend for themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Can you type?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Oh, can we type?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: We're good.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: We can do like 10 IMs a minute. See?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: yes.

O'BRIEN (on camera): The sisters in this movie start off being -- doing nothing, having everything handed to them, really easy street, to losing everything and having to kind of figure out who they are, who they want to be and what they're good at. What do you think is the big message out of all of this?

HILARY DUFF, ACTRESS: These girls really finally get smart and learn what is important and you have to be independent and kind of make yourself who you want to be in life when it comes to your career, or your job, or your life or how you look, and they finally learn how to do it, which is good. So it ends good, but it's funny watching them try to get there.

O'BRIEN: It's got a nice message, I think this movie does, for young women especially.

HILARY DUFF: It's important. Haley and I are so close, and I see some people that I know that, like, aren't that close with their siblings, and it's just like not even a big deal to them.

HALEY DUFF, ACTRESS: I can't imagine.

HILARY DUFF: Yes, like, this movie really show as lot about -- there's obviously, you know, love relationships, like there's boys in the movie that we each kind of have a relationship with, but it's really like a story about sisters.

O'BRIEN: I read that the two of you have wanted to work together for a long time, is that right? Really, why.

HILARY DUFF: That's right.

HALEY DUFF: From the time we were kids,we grew up putting on little shows in our house for mom and dad and...

HILARY DUFF: Then the first movie we did we were extras and they filmed it at our ranch in Texas.

HALEY DUFF: And we played sisters.

HILARY DUFF: Right. So our parents were, like, you can film at the ranch if you put our girls in the movies, and we were like extras, but we were sisters.

HALEY DUFF: I think we had one line in the whole thing.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Now seasoned professionals Hilary and Haley work for the filmmakers to give the movie an authentic feel. That included lessons on being VIPs on the L.A. nightlife scene.

HILARY DUFF: There were some scenes in the movie where we went out to clubs and stuff, and they just wanted to get a feel of what it's like when we go out and the type of people that we hang around, and what the atmosphere is like and...

HALEY DUFF: ... and the idea of, like, getting a table, and you know, they wanted to kind of see the whole deal, so.

O'BRIEN: But make no mistake, the fun club-hopping sisters in the movie are a far cry from the Duff sisters, even though Hillary is 18 and Haley is 21.

(on camera): You're so young. I mean you're really, really young, and yet you are pros, you're working, you're showing up on time. For 18-a lot of 18-year-olds that's often a big deal. I mean, a lot of your colleagues get a lot of bad rap for not showing up on time and not being good employees essentially..

HALEY DUFF: You know what I think is we take things really seriously, you know, and we work hard, and we get a lot in return, but you have to respect other people's jobs. And you know their jobs -- everybody's job is really important, and if you don't respect them, then you're not going to be respected yourself. And respect is a big important thing to us, I think.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: "Material Girls" is now playing nationwide.

SANCHEZ: "CNN LIVE TODAY" is coming up next with not a material girl, but a real woman, Daryn Kagan.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I was wondering how you were going to make that segue.

SANCHEZ: You know it was going to work for you, though.

KAGAN: All right, I'll take it. I'll take it.

We have a lot coming up in the next couple of hours. Life from the Gulf Coast. A year after Katrina, parishioners rebuild Mississippi's oldest Episcopal Church. I'll talk with a rector of St. Mark's in Gulfport.

Plus this: (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: Saddam Hussein and his officers are accused of being the first government ever to use chemical weapons against its own people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: A second trial for Saddam Hussein, this time he is charged with gassing thousands of Iraqi Kurds. And hold on...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire in the hole, shot one!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: Correspondent Kelli Arena takes us to bomb school. Military detectives learn how to be top notch "CSI" in Iraq. We get started at the top of the hour. It's "LIVE TODAY" for a Monday morning.

Back to you.

All right, Daryn, thank you.

O'BRIEN: We're just a few minutes away from President Bush's news conference. We're going to carry it for you live as soon as it gets under way. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.

A short break. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BUSINESS HEADLINES)

O'BRIEN: Let's get a shot of the president who's heading toward the briefing room. We're just a couple of minutes away. You can see there, he's making his way. A couple minutes away from a press conference that we're expecting in just about four minutes. And this is the president who runs on time.

We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll bring you the president's remarks, and some questions from journalists as well.

We're back in a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. A little bit of good news for President Bush this morning. There's a new CNN poll by the Opinion Research Corporation. It shows the president's approval rating is getting higher -- 42 percent of those polled now approve of the job that the president is doing. That's up 10 whole points from last spring. The president is just a couple of minutes away from speaking at a news conference. Let's get right to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. She's live at the White House for us.

Hey, Suzanne. What topics do we expect he's going to cover?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, it's good news for the president, those poll numbers, because he needs the good news at this point. What we expect is he's going to start off talking about the cease-fire involving Israel and Hezbollah. Of course the situation, the conflict out of Lebanon. He is also, of course, going to be talking about the situation in Iran and Iraq.

President Bush has really invested much of his legacy and his presidency on this whole notion of spreading democracy in the Middle East. But you look at those three hotspots, and clearly there are a lot of problems in that region. Much of that cease-fire that we mentioned that was negotiated six days ago is on the brink of falling apart. He's obviously going to be dealing with that issue first.

We saw over the weekend Israel conducting a raid, a raid that the Lebanese prime minister said, essentially, was a violation of the cease-fire, and there's also the whole issue of this international force that was brokered very delicately for weeks on end, specifically with the French, about sending in about 15,000 peacekeepers. That essentially is unraveling, as well. The French committing to about 200 so far. So they've got a big problem when it comes to trying to gather for that multinational force.

On some other fronts, you look at the situation in Iraq, just the last month or so, the highest number of civilian casualties in Iraq, the president clearly has some questions to answer. We're seeing his staffers come in. About two-minute warning we're being given so far. He's going to be answering questions about the situation, deteriorating situation in Iraq.

And finally the last point is on Iran. And that is the U.N. Security Council's resolution and demand that Iran stop enriching uranium, which the bush administration believes is being used to create weapons, nuclear weapons. So far we have heard from the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, just last week, and then just today from the supreme leader of Iran. Both of them saying that they are not going to comply with that particular demand. So the president has a lot of hot button issues and questions that he has to answer -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: And we'll keep talking, Suzanne, until we see the president come out and take his place at the podium.

Iran really flexing its military muscle, so to speak, with some very obvious maneuvers, clearly designed to send a message.

MALVEAUX: And here is the interesting aspect of this. The good news, if there is good news in this equation, is that the Bush administration is not alone in making this demand of Iran, that they're working with the U.N. Security Council, the members, the five permanent members in Germany, to try to get Iran to comply, to give up its nuclear ambitions.

The bad news is that the administration has failed, ultimately, its objective to get Iran to cooperate. It has gone under much pressure from European allies to offer conditional talks with Iran. Those have essentially gone nowhere, and now we are hearing these very strong statements from that regime, that it just will not cooperate.

O'BRIEN: What's on the horizon? And I have to imagine that we're going to hear the president specifically talking about this. But you basically get, and have been getting from Iran, no, it's not going to happen, no. What are the options here? What are the options on the table?

MALVEAUX: The only thing really that the Bush administration can do at this point is to continue to stress, to try to make the case that the Iranian regime is such a defiant, terrible regime, that the only way to deal with it is to impose the harshest sanctions is isolate Iran from the rest of the international community. The big question of course, Soledad, as you know, are you going to see those kind of tough sanctions from China, from Russia, who have been unwilling in the past to do more than really slap Iran on the wrist.

So that -- the test of diplomacy from the bush administration and how influential they can be with those allies is really going to determine whether or not Iran cooperates at all.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it's been unclear so far exactly what Russia is going to do and what China is going to do, at least at this point, depending on who you listen to, I guess. Do we have any word, specifically, on why the president's called this news conference. I understand you're going to be ale to ask questions when he's done.

MALVEAUX: Well, certainly there are a couple of hints.

And of course he's coming up to the podium, so we'll let him speak.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all. Please be seated.

Fancy digs you got here.

(LAUGHTER)

Thanks for your hospitality. It's good to visit with you. I look forward to taking some of your questions.

I do want to talk to you about the latest developments in Lebanon, what we're doing to ensure U.N. Security Council 1701 is implemented and its words are quickly put into action.

Resolution 1701 authorizes an effective international force to deploy to Lebanon, which is essential to peace in the region and is essential to the freedom of Lebanon.

An effective international force will help ensure that cessation of hostilities holds in southern Lebanon once the Israeli troops withdraw.

An effective international force will help the Lebanese army meet its responsibility to secure Lebanon's borders and stop them from acting -- and stop Hezbollah from acting as a state within a state.

An effective international force will help give displaced people in both Lebanon and Israel the confidence to return to their homes and begin rebuilding their lives without fear of renewed violence and terror.

International force requires international commitment. Previous resolutions have failed in Lebanon because they were not implemented by the international community; in this case, did not permit Hezbollah and its sponsors from instigating violence.

The new resolution authorizes a force of up to 15,000 troops. It gives this force an expanded mandate. The need is urgent.

The international community must now designate the leadership of this international force, give it robust rules of engagement and deploy it as quickly as possible to secure the peace.

America will do our part. We will assist the new international force with logistic support, command-and-control communications and intelligence.

Lebanon, Israel and our allies agree that this would be the most effective contribution we can make at this time.

We will also work with the leadership in the international force, once it's identified, to ensure that the United States is doing all we can to make this mission a success.

Deployment of this new international force will also help speed delivery of humanitarian assistance. Our nation is wasting no time in helping the people of Lebanon.

In other words, we're acting before the force gets in there. We've been on the ground in Beirut for weeks and have already distributed more than half of our $50 million pledge of disaster relief to the Lebanese people, who've lost their homes in the current conflict.

Secretary Rice has led the diplomatic efforts to establish humanitarian corridors so that relief convoys can get through; to reopen the Beirut airport to passenger and humanitarian aid flights and to ensure a steady fuel supply for Lebanese power plants and automobiles.

I directed 25,000 tons of wheat be delivered in Lebanon in the coming weeks.

We will do even more.

Today, I'm announcing that America will send more aid to support humanitarian and reconstruction work in Lebanon for a total of more than $230 million.

These funds will help the Lebanese people rehabilitate schools so the children can start their school year on time this fall; directed that an oil spill response team be sent to assist the Lebanese government in cleaning up an oil slick that is endangering coastal communities; proposing a $42 million package to help train and equip Lebanon's armed forces.

I will soon be sending a presidential delegation of private sector leaders to Lebanon to identify ways that we can tap into the generosity of American businesses and nonprofits to continue to help the people of Lebanon.

We take these steps -- I'll also work closely with Congress to extend the availability of loan guarantees to help rebuild infrastructure in Israel, infrastructure damaged by Hezbollah's rockets.

America's making a long-term commitment to help the people of Lebanon because we believe every person deserves to live in a free, open society that respects the rights of all.

We reject the killing of innocents to achieve a radical and violent agenda.

The terrorists and their state sponsors, Iran and Syria, have a much darker vision. They're working to thwart the efforts that of the Lebanese people to break free from foreign domination and build their own democratic future.

The terrorists and their sponsors are not going to succeed. The Lebanese people have made it clear they want to live in freedom. And now it's up to their friends and allies to help them do so.

I'll be glad to answer some questions.

QUESTION: More than 3,500 Iraqis were killed last month, the highest civilian monthly total since the war began.

Are you disappointed with the lack of progress by Iraq's unity government in bringing together the sectarian and ethnic groups?

BUSH: No, I am aware that extremists and terrorists are doing everything they can to prevent Iraq's democracy from growing stronger.

That's what I'm aware of.

And, therefore, we have a plan to help them -- them, the Iraqis -- achieve their objectives. Part of the plan is political; that is to help the Maliki government work on reconciliation and to work on rehabilitating the community.

The other part is, of course, security. And I have given our commanders all the flexibility they need to adjust tactics to be able to help the Iraqi government defeat those who want to thwart the ambitions of the people. And that includes a very robust security plan for Baghdad.

We have, you may or may not know, moved troops from Mosul -- Stryker Brigade -- into Baghdad, all aiming to help the Iraqi government succeed.

You know, I hear a lot of talk about civil war. I'm concerned about that, of course. And I've talked to a lot of people about it. And what I've found from my talks are that the Iraqis want a unified country and that the Iraqi leadership is determined to thwart the efforts of the extremists and the radicals and Al Qaida and that the security forces remain united behind the government.

And one thing is clear: The Iraqi people are showing incredible courage. The United States of America must understand that it's in our interests that we help this democracy succeed.

As a matter of fact, it's in our interests that we help reformers across the Middle East achieve their objectives. This is the fundamental challenge of the 21st century.

A failed Iraq would make America less secure.

A failed Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will provide safe haven for terrorists and extremists. It will embolden those who are trying to thwart the ambitions of reformers.

In this case, it would give the terrorists and extremists an additional tool besides safe haven, and that is revenues from oil sales.

You know, it's an interesting debate we're having in America about how we ought to handle Iraq. There's a lot of people -- good, decent people -- saying: Withdraw now.

They're absolute wrong. It'd be a huge mistake for this country.

If you think problems are tough now, imagine what it would be like if the United States leaves before this government has a chance to defend herself, govern herself and listen to the -- and answer to the will of the people.

QUESTION: Iran has indicated that it will defy the U.N. on nuclear enrichment. It's been holding military exercises, sending weapons and money to Hezbollah. Isn't Tehran's influence in the region growing despite your efforts to curb it?

BUSH: You know, the final history in the region has yet to be written.

And what's very interesting about the violence in Lebanon and the violence in Iraq and the violence in Gaza is this: These are all groups of terrorists who are trying to stop the advance of democracy. They're trying to thwart the will of millions who simply want a normal, hopeful life. That's what we're seeing.

And it's up to the international community to understand the threat. I remember, right after Hezbollah launched its rocket attacks on Israel, I said: This is a clarifying moment; this is a chance for the world to see the threats of the 21st century, the challenge we face.

And so to answer your question on Iran, Iran is obviously part of the problem. They sponsor Hezbollah. They encourage a radical brand of Islam.

Imagine how difficult this issue would be if Iran had a nuclear weapon. And so, therefore, it's up to the international community, including the United States, to work in concert for effective diplomacy.

And that begins at the United Nations Security Council. We have passed one Security Council resolution demanding that Iran cease its enrichment activities. We will see what their response is. We're beginning to get some indication, but we'll wait until they have a formal response.

The U.N. resolution calls for us to come back together on the 31st of August.

The dates -- you know, dates are fine, but what really matters is will.

And one of the things I will continue to remind our friends and allies is the danger of a nuclear-armed Iraq.

But, no, you're right. They're a central part of creating instability, trying to stop reformers from realizing dreams.

And the question facing this country is: Do we understand the threat to America -- in other words, do we understand that a -- failed states in the Middle East are a direct threat to our county's security?

And, secondly, will we continue to stay engaged in helping reformers in working to advance liberty to defeat an ideology that doesn't believe in freedom?

And my answer is: So long as I'm the president, we will. I clearly see the challenge. I see the challenge of what these threats pose to our homeland, and I see the challenge of what these threats pose to the world.

Helen?

(LAUGHTER)

What's so funny about me saying "Helen"?

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Israel...

BUSH: It's the anticipation of your question... QUESTION: Israel broke its word twice on a truce. And you mentioned Hezbollah rockets, but it's Israeli bombs that destroyed Lebanon. Why do you always give them a pass? And what's your view on this breaking of (OFF-MIKE) for a truce?

BUSH: I like to remind people about how this started. How this whole, how the damage to innocent life -- which bothers me -- what caused this?

(CROSSTALK)

Let me finish. Ma'am, please let me finish the question.

It's a great question to begin with, to follow up with a little bit. I know you're waiting for my answer -- aren't you? -- with bated breath. This never would have occurred had a terrorist organization -- a state within a state -- not launched attacks on a sovereign nation.

From the beginning, I said that Israel, one, has a right to defend herself, but Israel ought to be cautious about how she defends herself. Israel's a democratically elected government. They make decisions on their own sovereignty. It's their decision-making that is what leads to the tactics they chose.

But the world must understand that now is the time to come together to address the root cause of the problem, and the problem is you have a state within a state. You had people launch attacks on a sovereign nation without the consent of the government in the country in which they are lodged.

And that's why it's very important for all of us -- those of us who are involved in this process -- to get an international force into Lebanon to help the Lebanese government achieve some objectives.

One is their ability to exert control over the entire country. Secondly is to make sure that the Hezbollah forces don't rearm, don't get arms from Syria or Iran through Syria, to be able to continue to wreak havoc in the region.

Let's see. We'll finish the first line. Everybody can be patient.

QUESTION: Thank you.

BUSH: It's, kind of like dancing together, isn't it?

(LAUGHTER)

If I ask for any -- any comments from the peanut gallery, I'll call on (inaudible). By the way, seersucker is coming back. I hope everybody gets...

(LAUGHTER)

Never mind. QUESTION: It's the summertime East Texas county commissioner look.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: Yes, Martha, sorry.

QUESTION: That's quite all right.

Mr. President, I'd like to go back to Iraq. You have continually cited the elections, the new government's progress in Iraq -- and, yet, the violence is starting to worsen in certain areas. You have to go to Baghdad, again.

Is it not time for a new strategy? And, if not, why not?

BUSH: You know, you've covered the Pentagon. You know that the pentagon is constantly adjusting tactics because they have the flexibility from the White House to do so.

QUESTION: I'm talking about strategy.

BUSH: The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and their dreams, which is a democratic society. That's the strategy. The tactics -- now, either you say, yes, it's important that we stay there and get it done; or we leave. We're not leaving so long as I'm the president. That would be a huge mistake.

It would send an unbelievably terrible signal to reformers across the region. It would say we've abandoned our desire to change the conditions that create terror. It would give the terrorists a safe haven from which to launch attacks. It would embolden Iran. It would embolden extremists.

No, we're not leaving.

The strategic objective is to help this government succeed. That's the strategic -- and not only to help the government -- the reformers in Iraq succeed, but to help the reformers across the region succeed to fight off the elements of extremism. The tactics are what's changed.

Now, if you say, "Are you going to change your strategic objective?", it means you're leaving before the mission is complete, and we're not going to leave before the mission is complete.

I agree with General Abizaid. We leave before the mission is done, the terrorists will follow us here.

And so we have changed tactics. Our commanders have got the flexibility necessary to change tactics on the ground, starting with Plan Baghdad, and that's when we moved troops from Mosul into Baghdad and replaced with the Stryker Brigade. So in essence we increased troops during this time of instability.

QUESTION: Sir... BUSH: Suzanne?

QUESTION: Sir, that's not really the question. The strategy is...

BUSH: Sounded like the question to me.

QUESTION: You keep saying that you don't want to leave, but is your strategy to win working?

Even if you don't want to leave, you've gone into Baghdad before, these things have happened before.

BUSH: If I didn't think it would work, I would change -- our commanders would recommend changing the strategy. They believe it'll work.

It takes time to defeat these people. The Maliki government's been in power for, you know, less than six months.

And, yes, the people spoke. I've cited that as a part of -- the reason I cite it is because it's what the Iraqi people want.

And the fundamental question facing this government is whether or not we will stand with reformers across the region. It's really the task. And we're going to stand with this government.

You know, obviously I wish the violence would go down, but not as much as the Iraqi citizens would wish the violence would go down.

But, incredibly enough, they showed great courage, and they want our help.

Any sign that says we're going to leave before the job is done simply emboldens terrorists and creates a certain amount of doubt for people, so they won't take the risk necessary to help a civil society evolve in the country.

And this is a campaign -- I'm sure they're watching the campaign carefully. There are a lot of good, decent people saying: Get out now; vote for me; I will do everything I can to, I guess, cut off money is what they're trying to do to get our troops out.

It's a big mistake. It would be wrong, in my judgment, for us to leave before the mission is complete in Iraq.

QUESTION: Back to Lebanon. The Lebanese prime minister, over the weekend, said that Israel flagrantly violated the cease-fire with its raid into Lebanon.

And, so far, the European allies have committed forces. The U.N. Security peacekeeping forces have expressed reservations. Those Muslim nations who have offered troops have been shunned by Israeli officials.

Why shouldn't we see the cease-fire as one that, essentially, is falling apart?

And what makes this more than a piece of paper, if you don't have the will of the international community to back it up?

BUSH: No, listen, all the more reason why we need to help our friends and allies get the forces necessary to help the Lebanese forces keep the cessation of hostilities in place, intact.

And that's why we're working with friends, with allies, with Security Council members to make sure the force that is committed is robust and the rules of engagement are clear. And it's an ongoing series of conversations and discussions, and hopefully this will happen quite quickly.

QUESTION: Will you press the French to contribute more troops?

BUSH: We're pressing on all. I was asked about the French the other day at Camp David. And, listen, France has had a very close relationship with Lebanon. There's historical ties with Lebanon. I would hope they would put more troops in. I mean, they understand the region as well as anybody.

And so we're working with a lot folks trying to get this force up and running.

Look, like you -- I mean, you sound a little somewhat frustrated by diplomacy.

Diplomacy can be a frustrating thing. I think the strategy can work, so long as the force is robust and the rules of engagement are clear.

QUESTION: Mr. President, as you mentioned, we're just 10 days from the U.N. Security Council deadline on Iran. Judging by the public comments from the Iranians, it appears, at least, highly unlikely that they're going to stop or suspend their enrichment program.

Are you confident that the U.N. Security Council will move quickly on sanctions if Iran thumbs its nose at the world again?

BUSH: Certainly hope so. In order for the U.N. to be effective, there must be consequences if people thumb their nose at the United Nations Security Council. And we will work with people on the Security Council to achieve that objective. And the objective is that there's got to be a consequence basically ignoring what the Security Council has suggested through resolution.

QUESTION: Understanding that diplomacy takes time, do you think that this could drag out for a while?

BUSH: You know, I don't know. I certainly want to solve this problem diplomatically, and I believe the best chance to do so is for there to be more than one voice speaking clearly to the Iranians.

And I was pleased that we got a resolution; that there was a, you know, a group of nations willing to come together to send a message to the Iranians -- nations as diverse as China and Russia, plus the E.U.- 3 and the United States.

QUESTION: Morning, Mr. President.

When you talked today about the violence in Baghdad, first you mentioned extremists, radicals, and then Al Qaida. It seems that Al Qaida and foreign fighters are much less of a problem there and that it really is Iraqi versus Iraqi.

And when we heard about your meeting the other day with experts and so forth, some of the reporting out of that said you were frustrated, you were surprised. And your spokesman said: No, you're determined.

But frustration seems like a very real emotion. Why wouldn't you be frustrated, sir, about what's happening?

BUSH: I do remember the meeting; I don't remember being surprised.

I'm not sure what they meant by that.

QUESTION: About the lack of gratitude among the Iraqi people...

BUSH: No, I think -- first of all, the first part of your question: You know, if you look back at the words of Zarqawi before he was brought to justice, he made it clear that the intent of their tactics in Iraq was to create civil strife.

In other words, look at what he said. He said, let's kill Shia to get Shia to seek revenge and therefore create this, kind of, hopefully, cycle of violence.

Secondly, it's pretty clear -- at least the evidence indicates -- that the bombing of the shrine was an Al Qaida plot, all intending to create sectarian violence.

Now, Al Qaida is still very active in Iraq. As a matter of fact, some of the more -- I would guess; I would surmise that some of the more spectacular bombings are done by Al Qaida suiciders.

No question there's sectarian violence, as well.

And the challenge is to provide a security plan such that a political process can go forward.

And, you know -- I'm sure you all are tired of hearing me say 12 million Iraqi voted. But it's an indication about the desire for people to live in a free society. That's what that means.

And the only way to defeat this ideology in the long term is to defeat it through another ideology, a competing ideology, one that -- where government responds to the will of the people.

And that's really the fundamental question we face here in the beginning of this 21st century, is whether or not we believe as a nation and others believe it is possible to defeat this ideology.

Now, I recognize some say that these folks are not ideologically bound. I strongly disagree.

I think, not only do they have an ideology; they have tactics necessary to spread their ideology. And it would be a huge mistake for the United States to leave the region, to concede territory to the terrorists, to not confront them.

And the best way to confront them is to help those who want to live in free society. Look, eventually, Iraq will succeed because the Iraqis will see to it that they succeed. And our job is to help them succeed. That's our job.

Our job is to help their forces be better equipped, to help their police be able to deal with these extremists and to help their government succeed.

QUESTION: Are you frustrated, sir?

BUSH: Frustrated? Sometimes I'm frustrated. Rarely surprised. Sometimes I'm happy, you know. But war is not a time of joy.

These aren't joyous times. These are challenging times, and they're difficult times, and they're straining the psyche of our country. I understand that.

You know, nobody likes to see innocent people die. Nobody wants to turn on their TV on a daily basis and see havoc wrought by terrorists.

And our question is: Do we have the capacity and the desire to spread peace by confronting these terrorists and supporting those who want to live in liberty? That's the question.

And my answer to that question is: We must. We owe it to future generations to do so.

QUESTION: Mr. President, as you have reminded us a number of times, it was Hezbollah that started the confrontation between Israel and Lebanon. But you were supportive of the holding off of any kind of cease-fire until Israel had a chance to clear out Hezbollah weapons.

By all accounts, they did not exactly succeed in doing that. And by all accounts, the Lebanese army, as it moved into southern Lebanon, had a "wink and a nod" arrangement with Hezbollah not to disturb anything but just leave things as they are, a situation not unknown in the Middle East.

Do you demand that the peacekeeping force, if and when it gets up and running, disarm Hezbollah?

BUSH: The truth of the matter is that, if 1559 -- that's the United Nations Security Council resolution number -- had been fully implemented, we wouldn't be in the situation we were in to begin with. There will be another resolution coming out of the United Nations, giving further instructions to the international force. First things first is to get the rules of engagement clear so that the force will be robust to help the Lebanese.

One thing is for certain, is that when this force goes in to help Lebanon, Hezbollah won't have that safe haven or that kind of freedom to run in Lebanon's southern border.

In other words, there's an opportunity to create a cushion, a security cushion.

Hopefully, over time Hezbollah will disarm.

You can't have a democracy with a, you know, armed political party willing to bomb its neighbor without the consent of its government or, you know, just deciding, "Well, let's create enough chaos and discord by lobbing rockets."

And so the reality is in order for Lebanon to succeed -- and we want Lebanon's democracy to succeed -- the process is going to -- the Lebanese government's eventually going to have to deal with Hezbollah.

QUESTION: But it's the status quo if there's disarmament.

BUSH: Not really. I mean, yes, eventually, you're right. But in the meantime, there will be -- there's a security zone, something where the Lebanese army and the UNIFIL force, a more robust UNIFIL force, can create a security zone between Lebanon and Israel.

BUSH: That would be helpful.

But ultimately you're right. Your question is: Shouldn't Hezbollah disarm? And ultimately they should. And it's necessary for the Lebanese government to succeed.

The cornerstone of our policy in that part of the world is to help democracies. Lebanon's a democracy. We want the Sinora government to succeed.

Part of our aid package is going to be to help strengthen the army of Lebanon so when the government speaks, when the government commits its troops, they do so in an effective way.

Knoller?

QUESTION: Yes, sir?

BUSH: How are you feeling?

QUESTION: I'm good, sir.

BUSH: Good to see you.

QUESTION: Good to be back. Thanks.

BUSH: Yes, it's good to see you. Sorry we didn't spend more time in Crawford. I knew you were anxious to do so.

QUESTION: Always am.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: That's good. It's why we love seeing you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

Let me ask you about presidential pardons. Last week you issued 17 of them. That brought the number of pardons you've issued in your presidency to 97.

QUESTION: And that's far fewer than most of your recent predecessors, except your dad.

I want to ask you: Do you consider yourself to be stingy when it comes to pardons?

(LAUGHTER)

What is your philosophy on granting presidential pardons?

BUSH: You know, I don't have the criterion in front of me. But we have a strict criterion that we utilize; we being the Justice Department and the White House counsel.

And I, frankly, haven't compared the number of pardons I have given to any other president. Perhaps I should. But I don't think a score card should necessarily be the guidepost for pardoning people.

QUESTION: What do you say to people who are losing patience with gas prices at $3 a gallon?

And how much of a political price do you think you're paying for that, right now?

BUSH: I have been talking about gas prices ever since they got high, starting with this. Look, I understand gas prices are like a hidden tax -- not a hidden tax; it's taking money out of people's pockets. I know that.

All the more reason for us to diversify away from crude oil. That's not going to happen overnight.

We passed law that encouraged consumption through different purchasing habits like, you know, hybrid vehicles. You buy hybrid, you get a tax credit.

We've encouraged the spread of ethanol as an alternative to crude oil.

We have asked for Congress to pass regulatory relief so we can build more refineries to increase the supply of gasoline, hopefully taking the pressure off of price. And so the strategy is to recognize that dependency upon crude oil, in a global market, affects us economically here at home. And, therefore, we need to diversify away as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

As you know, the one-year anniversary of Katrina's coming up. And there's a lot of retrospective about what went wrong down there last year.

Specifically, what has your administration done in the past year to help the folks down there? What remains to be done?

BUSH: You know, thanks.

You know, I went to New Orleans, and in Jackson Square I made a commitment that we would -- we'd help the people there recover.

I also want the people down there to understand that it's going to take awhile to recover. This was a huge storm.

First things -- first thing that's necessary to help the recovery is money. And our government has committed over $110 billion to help.

Of that, a lot of money went to -- you know, went out the door to help people adjust from having to be moved because of the storm.

And then there's rental assistance, infrastructure repair, debris removal.

Mississippi removed about 97 percent, 98 percent of what they call dry debris. We're now in the process of getting debris from the waters removed.

Louisiana is slower in terms of getting debris removed. The money is available to help remove that debris. People can get after it. And I would hope they would.

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: Let me finish. Thank you.

We provide about $1.8 billion for education. That money has gone out the door. We want those schools up and running. As I understand, the schools are running now in New Orleans; a lot of schools are.

Flood insurance -- we're spending money on flood insurance.

There is more work to be done, particularly when it comes to housing.

We spent about -- appropriated about $16 billion, $17 billion for direct housing grants to people in the Gulf Coast and in Louisiana.

I made the decision, along with the local authorities, that each state ought to develop a housing recovery plan. That's what they call the LRA in Louisiana. They're responsible for taking the federal money and getting it to the people.

Same in -- Mississippi has developed its own plan. I thought it would be best that there be a local plan developed and implemented by local folks.

And so there's now, as I mentioned, $16 billion of direct housing grants. Each state has developed its own plan of how much money goes to each homeowner to help these people rebuild their lives.

And so I think the area where people will see the most effect in their lives is when they start getting this individualized CDBG grant money.

QUESTION: Is there anything that's disappointed you about the recovery, the federal response?

BUSH: You know, I was concerned at first about how much Congress and the taxpayers would be willing to appropriate and spend. I think $110 billion is a strong commitment, and I'm pleased with that.

Any time we -- I named a man named Don Powell to go down there. And, you know, the thing that's most important is for the government to, you know, eliminate any bureaucratic obstacles, when we find something that's not moving quick enough.

I think, for example, about debris removal. You know, there was the issue of whether or not the government would pay for debris removal on private property or not, so we worked out a plan with the local mayors and local county commissioners, local parish presidents, to be able to designate certain property as a health hazard.

And when they did so, then the government money could pay for it.

In other words, we're trying to be flexible with the rules and regulations we have to deal with.

But the place where people, I'm sure, are going to be most frustrated is whether or not they're going to get the money to rebuild their homes. And my attitude is: We've appropriated the money, and now we'll work with the states to get the money out.

I suspect you have a follow-up on this.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Yes I do, sir, and another question, sir.

(LAUGHTER)

The follow-up: Some have a concern that you have given all of the money, but the federal government has moved away to let the local government, particularly in New Orleans, handle everything. And things are not moving like they expected. And that's one of the concerns.

And another question... BUSH: Let me address that. And I promise you can ask another one.

As I mentioned to you, the strategy from the get-go was to work with the local folks in Mississippi and Louisiana. And they would then submit their plans to the federal government, particularly for housing; and that, upon approval, we would then disburse the appropriate monies, in this case about $17 billion for housing grants.

And so each state came up with a grant formula. And I can't give you all the details, but the whole purpose is intended to get money into people's pockets to help them rebuild.

And once the strategy is developed at the state and local level, it makes sense for the monies to be appropriated at the state and local level. And if there's a -- you know, if there's a level of frustration there, we will work with the LRA in this case.

Second question?

QUESTION: Follow-up on that...

BUSH: Well, how many -- are you trying to dominate this thing?

QUESTION: No, sir. But I don't get a chance to talk to you as much as the others.

BUSH: That's not -- wait a minute.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: But a follow-up. Do you think that then more needs to be done? Does the federal government need to put its hands on what's going on? Because New Orleans is not moving...

BUSH: I think the best way to do this is for the federal government's representative, Don Powell, to continue to work with Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco to get the money into the hands of the people.

The money's been appropriated. The formula's in place. And now it's time to move forward.

Now, you have another question, I presume.

QUESTION: Yes. And this is it, sir.

Chinese officials are saying that you need to get involved in the six-party talks, you ultimately have to be a part of the six-party talks...

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: ... dealing with North Korea. And, also, they are saying that you need to stop dealing with the issue of money laundering and deal with the real issue of ballistic missiles. What are your thoughts?

BUSH: Well, counterfeiting U.S. dollars is an issue that every president ought to be concerned about. And when you catch people counterfeiting your money, you need to do something about it.

We are very much involved in the six-party talks. Matter of fact, I talked to Hu Jintao this morning about the six-party talks and about the need for us to continue to work together to send a clear message to the North Korean leader that there is a better choice for him than to continue to develop a nuclear weapon.

The six-party talks are -- is an important part of our -- the six-party talks are an important part of our strategy of dealing with Kim Jong Il, and the Chinese president recognized that in the phone call today.

And so we talked about how we'll continue to collaborate and work together.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

You mentioned the campaign earlier. Do you agree with those in your party, including the vice president, who said or implied Democratic voters emboldened Al Qaida types by choosing Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman and it's a message that how Americans vote will send messages to terrorists abroad?

Thank you.

BUSH: You're welcome.

What all of us in this administration have been saying is that leaving Iraq before the mission is complete will send the wrong message to the enemy and will create a more dangerous world. That's what we're saying.

Look, it's an honest debate, and it's an important debate for Americans to listen to and to be engaged in. In our judgment, the consequences for defeat in Iraq are unacceptable.

And I fully understand that some didn't think we ought to go in there in the first place.

But defeat -- if you think it's bad now, imagine what Iraq would look like if the United States leaves before this government can defend itself and sustain itself.

You know, chaos in Iraq would be very unsettling in the region.

Leaving before the job would be done would send a message that America really is no longer engaged nor cares about the form of governments in the Middle East. Leaving before the job is done would send a signal to our troops that the sacrifices they made were not worth it.

Leaving before the job is done would be a disaster. And that's what we're saying.

I will never question the patriotism of somebody who disagrees with me. This has nothing to do with patriotism. It has everything to do with understanding the world in which we live.

It's like, the other day, I was critical of those who heralded the federal judge's opinion about the terrorist surveillance program.

I thought it was a terrible opinion. And that's why we're appealing it.

And I have no -- you know, look, I understand how democracy works. Quite a little bit of criticism in it, which is fine. That's fine. That's part of the process.

But I have every right, as do my administration, to make it clear what the consequences would be of policy. And if we think somebody is strong or doesn't see the world the way it is, we'll continue to point that out to people.

And therefore those who heralded the decision not to give law enforcement the tools necessary to protect the American people just simply don't see the world the way we do. They see maybe these kind of isolated incidents. These aren't isolated incidents; they're tied together. There is a global war going on.

And, you know, somebody said: Well, this is law enforcement.

No, this isn't law enforcement, in my judgment. Law enforcement means kind of a simple, you know, singular response to the problem.

This is a global war on terror. We're facing, you know, extremists that believe something. And they want to achieve objectives.

And, therefore, the United States must use all our assets and we must work with others to defeat this enemy. That's the call.

And we -- in the short run, we got to stop them from attacking us. That's why I give the Tony Blair government great credit, and their intelligence officers -- and our own government credit for working with the Brits to stop this attack.

But you know something? It's an amazing town -- isn't it? -- you know, where they say on the one hand you can't have the tools necessary and herald the fact that you won't have the tools necessary to defend the people and, sure enough, attack would occur, and say, "How come you don't have the tools necessary to defend the people?"

That's the way we think around this town.

And so we'll continue to speak out in a respectful way; never challenging somebody's love for America when you criticize their strategies or their point of view.

And, you know, for those who say that, well, all they're trying to say is, "We're not patriotic," simply don't listen to our words very carefully, do they?

What matters is that in this campaign that we clarify the different points of view. And there are a lot of people in the Democratic Party who believe that the best course of action is to leave Iraq before the job is done. Period. And they're wrong.

And the American people have got to understand the consequence of leaving Iraq before the job is done. We're not going to leave Iraq before the job is done and we'll complete the mission in Iraq.

I can't tell you exactly when it's going to be done, but I do know that it's important for us to support the Iraqi people who have shown incredible courage in their desire to live in a free society. And if we ever give up the desire to help people live in freedom, we will have lost our soul as a nation, as far as I'm concerned.

QUESTION: Is that a make-or-break issue for you? In terms of domestic politics, there's a Republican in Pennsylvania who says he doesn't think that the troops should go. Would you campaign for Mike Fitzpatrick?

BUSH: I already have...

QUESTION: And would you campaign against Senator Joe Lieberman, who's a Republican candidate (OFF-MIKE)?

BUSH: I'm going to stay out of Connecticut.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Mr. President, you were born there.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: How can you say that...

BUSH: I may be the only person, the only presidential candidate who never carried the state in which he was born.

Do you think that's right, Herman? Of course, you would have researched that and dropped it out for everybody to see, particularly since I dissed that just ridiculous-looking outfit.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Your mother raised you better than that, Mr. President.

BUSH: So I'm not going to say it.

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: And I don't want anybody to know that I think it's ridiculous-looking.

(LAUGHTER) I'm not through yet.

QUESTION: Make-or-break issue for you.

BUSH: And by the way, I'm staying out of Connecticut because, you know, that's what the party suggested, the Republican Party of Connecticut. And, plus, there's a better place to spend our money, time and resources.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Right. I listen to them very carefully. I'm a thoughtful guy. I listen to people.

(LAUGHTER)

I'm open-minded. I'm all the things that you know I am.

(LAUGHTER)

Other part of your question. Look, issues are won based upon whether or not you can keep this economy strong; elections are won based upon economic issues and national security issues.

And there's a fundamental difference between many of the Democrats and my party. And that is: They want to leave before the job is completed in Iraq.

And again, I repeat: These are decent people. They're just as American as I am. I just happen to strongly disagree with them. And it's very important for the American people to understand the consequences of leaving Iraq before the job is done.

This is a global war on terror. I repeat what our major general said -- our leading general said, in the region. He said: If we withdraw before the job is done, the enemy will follow us here. I strongly agree with that.

And if you believe that the job of the federal government is to secure this country, it's really important for you to understand that success in Iraq is part of securing the country.

We're talking about a long-term issue here, as well. In the short term, we've got to have the tools necessary to stop a terrorist attack. That mean goods intel, good intelligence-sharing, the capacity to know whether Al Qaida's calling into this country and why.

We've got to have all those tools. The Patriot Act -- you know, tearing down those walls between intel and law enforcement are a necessary part of protecting the country.

But, in the long term, the only way to defeat this terrorist bunch is through the spread of liberty and freedom. And that's a big challenge. I understand it's a challenge. It requires commitment and patience and persistence. I believe it's the challenge of this -- the challenge for this generation. I believe we owe it to our children and grandchildren to stay engaged and to help spread liberty and to help reformers.

Now, ultimately, success is going to be up to the reformers, just like in Iraq. It's going to require Iraqis, the will of Iraqis to succeed. I understand that.

And that's why our strategy is to give them the tools necessary to defend themselves and help them defend themselves; in this case right now mainly in Baghdad, but as well around the country.

At home, if I were a candidate for running, I'd say, "Look at what the economy has done." It's strong. We've created a lot of jobs -- let me finish my question, please. These hands going up; I'm kind of getting old and, you know, just getting into my peroration.

(LAUGHTER)

Look it up.

(LAUGHTER)

I'd be telling people that the Democrats will raise your taxes. That's what they said. I'd be reminding people that tax cuts have worked in terms of stimulating the economy.

I'd be reminding people there's a philosophical difference between those who want to raise taxes and have the government spend the money, and those of us who say, "You get to spend the money the way you want to see fit. It's your money."

I'd remind people that pro-growth economic policies had helped us cut that deficit faster than we thought. I'd also remind people, if I were running, that a long-term problem facing the budget is Social Security and Medicare.

And Republican or Democrat ought to say: I look forward to working with the president to solve the problem.

People expect us to come here to solve problems. And thus far, the attitude has been: Let's just kind of ignore what the president has said and just hope somebody else comes and solves it for us.

And that's what I'd be running on. I'd be running on the economy and I'd be running on national security. But since I'm not running, I can only serve as an adviser to those who are.

Yes, Herman?

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

Go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: I don't need to, now that you've stood up and everybody can clearly see for themselves.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Mr. President, polls continue to show sagging support for the war in Iraq. I'm curious as to how you see this developing.

Is it your belief that long-term results will vindicate your strategy and people will change their mind about it?

Or is this the kind of thing you're doing because you think it's right and you don't care if you ever gain public support for it?

Thank you.

BUSH: Thank you.

Yes, look, I mean, presidents care about whether people support their policies. I don't think -- not that I don't care. Of course I care.

But I understand why people are discouraged about Iraq. I can understand that. We live in a, you know, world in which people hope things happen quickly. And this is a situation where things don't happen quickly because there's, you know, a very tough group of people using tactics -- mainly the killing of innocent people -- to achieve their objective, and they're skillful about how they do this. And they also know the impact of what it means on the consciousness of those of us who live in the free world. They know that.

And so, yes, I care, I really do. I wish -- you know, and so, therefore, I'm going to spend a lot of time trying to explain as best I can, you know, why it's important for us to succeed in Iraq.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Let me finish.

On the other hand, I don't think you've ever heard me say -- and you've now been covering me for quite a while, 12 years.

I don't think -- 12 years? Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: I don't think you've ever heard me say: Gosh, I better change positions because the polls say this or that. I've been here long enough to understand, you cannot make good decisions if you're trying to chase a poll.

And so the second part of your question is, look, I'm going to do what I think is right, and if, you know, if people don't like me for it, that's just the way it is...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: A lot of the consequences you mentioned for pulling out seem like maybe they never would have been there if we hadn't gone in. How do you square all of that?

BUSH: I square it because imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein, who had the capacity to make a weapon of mass destruction, who was paying suiciders to kill innocent life, who had relations with Zarqawi.

Imagine what the world would be like with him in power. The idea is to try to help change the Middle East.

Now look, part of the reason we went into Iraq was -- the main reason we went into Iraq, at the time, was we thought he had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out he didn't, but he had the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction.

But I also talked about the human suffering in Iraq. And I also saw the need to advance a freedom agenda. And so my answer to your question is that -- imagine a world in which Saddam Hussein was there, stirring up even more trouble in a part of the world that had so much resentment and so much hatred that people came and killed 3,000 of our citizens.

You know, I've heard this theory about, you know, everything was just fine until we arrived and -- you know, the stir-up-the-hornet's- nest theory. It just doesn't hold water, as far as I'm concerned.

The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East. They were ...

QUESTION: What did Iraqi have to do with that?

BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what?

QUESTION: The attacks upon the World Trade Center.

BUSH: Nothing. Except for it's part of -- and nobody's ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- Iraq -- the lesson of September the 11th is: Take threats before they fully materialize, Ken.

Nobody's ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq. I have suggested, however, that resentment and the lack of hope create the breeding grounds for terrorists who are willing to use suiciders to kill, to achieve an objective. I have made that case.

And one way to defeat that -- you know, defeat resentment -- is with hope. And the best way to do hope is through a form of government.

Now I said, going into Iraq, "We've got to take these threats seriously before they full materialize." I saw a threat.

I fully believe it was the right decision to remove Saddam Hussein, and I fully believe the world is better off without him. Now the question is: How do we succeed in Iraq? And you don't succeed by leaving before the mission is complete, like some in this political process are suggesting.

Last question.

Stretch? Who you working for, Stretch?

QUESTION: The Washington Examiner.

BUSH: Glad you found work.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

Mr. President, some pro-life groups are worried that your choice of FDA commissioner will approve over-the-counter sales of Plan B, a pill that they say essentially can cause early-term abortions.

Do you stand by this choice? And how do you feel about Plan B, in general?

BUSH: I believe that Plan B ought to be -- ought to require a prescription for minors. That's what I believe. And I support the Andy's decisions.

Thanks for letting me come by the new digs here. They may be a little too fancy for you.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Are we coming back, ever?

BUSH: Absolutely you're coming back.

QUESTION: Can we hold you to that...

BUSH: Coming back to the bosom of the White House.

(LAUGHTER)

I'm looking forward to hugging you when you come back, everybody.

(LAUGHTER)

When are you coming back?

QUESTION: As soon as you tell us.

QUESTION: You tell us.

QUESTION: May.

BUSH: May, is that when it is? QUESTION: They've sealed off about -- they've sealed off the door. You know, we're wondering if we're really coming back.

QUESTION: The decision will be made by commanders on the ground, sir.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: There's no timetable.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: We want to do withdraw from...

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: What you think this is, a correspondents' dinner or something?

(LAUGHTER)

Thank you all.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: A few light-hearted moments there to wrap up the hour-long news conference that President Bush had. This is his 27th solo news conference of his presidency, if you're counting, by the way, and that lighthearted banter had to do with the fact that the White House press corps is now across the street from the White House while the renovations take place in the White House press room. Some doubt among the White House press pool if and when they get to come back into the White House.

Let's talk a little bit about what the president talked about. He covered a number of topics, including the international force being built for Southern Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Israel, the U.N. Security Council. A lot of get to.

And let's go to our Suzanne Malveaux, who was right there asking her own questions in the news conference.

Suzanne, hello.

MALVEAUX: Hi, Daryn.

The one common theme that we he kept coming back to, essentially, was he was touching on so many issues, talking about things don't go right now if they are a mess now essentially, look to the future. Be patient. Look for it. And I just want to mention a couple of things, because this was across the gamut here.

On Iran's influence, he says, the final chapter in history has yet to be written.

On Lebanon and the status quo. What about Hezbollah? He says, well, I agree, eventually, sure, right, they need to disarm. But that hasn't been addressed when it comes to that U.N. Security Council resolution.

On Katrina, the questions about whether or not the federal government has done a good job, committed job in trying to help the people of New Orleans, the Gulf Coast region. He says it's going to take a while to recover.

On gas prices, very high. He says, it's not going to happen overnight.

On Iraq, he says I can't tell you when the job will get done. So clearly the underlining message on all of these different questions, all of these different complications and challenges for this administration is, wait and see, it may not be happening well, it may not be going well now, but eventually it will be -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Suzanne Malveaux, across the street from the White House, in the makeshift headquarters for the White House press pool. Thank you for that.

The president also challenged quite a bit on what Israel has been doing in light of the truce that has been struck between Israel, and Hezbollah and Lebanon, being asked specifically if Israel has indeed violated that truce.

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