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CNN Live Event/Special

President Bush Holds News Conference in Rose Garden

Aired June 14, 2006 - 09:31   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: A string of good news giving the momentum to the Bush administration. Last week, you'll recall, al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then President Bush making that unexpected and unannounced trip to Baghdad to meet Iraq's new prime minister, and to deliver a message, this message to the Iraqi people. Listen.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES: My message to the Iraqi people is this: Seize the moment. Seize this opportunity to develop a government of, and by and for the people.


S. O'BRIEN: What's the impact back home? Joining us this morning to talk about all this, CNN's chief national correspondent, and the guy on the plane with the president to Baghdad, John King. Also senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr as well.

Good morning to all of you.

John, let's begin with you. Give us some of the details. This trip was obviously -- a great secrecy surrounded it. How did it come about?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATL. CORRESPONDENT: Well, they've planing it for about a month actually at the White House. The president said as soon as the Iraqi government, the new unity government was complete, meaning not only the prime minister, but his cabinet, that he wanted to go to Baghdad for face-to-face meetings, to get to know the new prime minister, get to know the new defense minister, essentially get to know the people with whom he has to now do some very serious business. How long will U.S. troops be in Iraq? How significant can you reduce troop levels this year, which of course is an election year back here in the United States? How many more billions will it take for the reconstruction? What assurances will there be that that money is not wasted?

The president likes to conduct hands-on, eyeball-to-eyeball diplomacy, so they had this in the works for about a month. But some of the key positions in the cabinet weren't filled until just last week. As soon as those positions were filled, it was off to Baghdad. They concocted this plan to plan to bring most of the Bush administration cabinet up to Camp David for Monday and Tuesday so that he could sneak out Monday night. That all part of the plan. An 11- hour trip to Baghdad, incredibly high security, on the ground a little under five hours, and then back. And you heard the president in that soundbite saying he wants the Iraqi people to seize the moment. He's trying to do very much same thing, Soledad.

They think after so much frustration, so many setbacks, there's perhaps a chance, a reason to be optimistic here. The president is hoping that helps him politically here at home.

Let's turn to Barbara Starr. Let's talk troops, Barbara, because whether you're talking about insurgents, or you're talking about Iraqi troops readiness, really what you're saying is, when do American troops come home. What do you think the developments yesterday and overnight have done to that question?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, from the Pentagon's point of view, Soledad, the key question really is the new leaders in the defense ministry and the interior ministry in Iraq. That's what Secretary Rumsfeld had been watching for. To him, he has been very clear that he felt that was a key step, getting new leadership in. That, he hoped, will help Iraqi troops gain confidence, have them have somebody to pledge their loyalty to, and maybe, finally, you know, break the back of these militia movements that have been plaguing Iraq with violence, quite separate from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's fighter movement.

So they hope that that is somewhat of a turning point, because it really remains the case three years later as we all continue to say, it's up to Iraqi troops to get a handle on the security problem. That will be the path for U.S. troops to come home.

S. O'BRIEN: Candy Crowley, let's talk politics. Yesterday you were saying sometimes good news is just the absence of bad news. But I think some of this good news is just good news, so far at least. What do you think the president has to say today in his briefing we're hear in a little bit to leverage off of the good news they've had?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POL. CORRESPONDENT: What he's been doing sort of all along, and it's all been about momentum, progress, progress, progress. Part of the reason for the low poll numbers, when you look inside, is that people have begun to look at this war and say, it's not winnable; we need to get out.

As long as the president can continue to show progress, they think they can move those numbers and buy the sort of time they think they need to stabilize Iraq. So what the president has to do is, as he did after Zarqawi's death, as he did with his literal motion over to Iraq, is to show the American people, we are moving forward. Their problem has always been fighting those images that we see so constantly and daily from overseas of IEDs going off, of young men and women being killed. So the whole idea for the White House now is show progress to the American people so they can begin to turn around the numbers that have been showing, we don't think this war a winnable.

S. O'BRIEN: Back to John King for a moment. I know after you all got out of Dodge pretty quickly, out of Baghdad, the president came back and talked to all of you, the few really, who were on the plane with him. What did he have to say?

KING: Well, it was quite an interesting conversation. And to Candy's point about the politics, the president is very interesting on this subject. He speaks with quite some passion. Let me read you something he said. He said he knows there are people who are concerned about the really short-term history. I'm concerned about the long-term history.

Now, in part, the president's talking about Democrats who say bring the troops home now. But in part, the president's also talking about Republicans, who would love for this president to stand in the Rose Garden in 10 minutes, and say I can bring 50,000 troops home this year. Republicans say the biggest drag on them back home, is that never mind people who oppose the war; they are not going to suddenly support the war just because the president flew to Baghdad. But people who did support the war, or at least gave the president the benefit of the doubt, many of them now have questions. They're in a sour mood about it. Republicans. Those are the people Republicans need to address. They would love the president to say we're making so much progress, I'll have 50,000 troops, 60,000 troops, home before the election. But the president's not going to do that. He simply says, he will not make those decisions based on the politics here at home. And when he says that, people say, oh, he's being political again.

I can tell you from the conversation, he means it. This president believes he's right, whether you think he's right or whether he's wrong, he believes he's right, and he's going to stick to his guns on this one.

S. O'BRIEN: You can mean it and still be political.

Let's get right back to Candy Crowley, because of course, Candy, this is the question we've spoken about a million times. How's it going to play in the midterm elections?

CROWLEY: I guess we'll see when the midterm elections come up.

Look, what's happened is, this has given Republicans -- remember last week about this time talking about Tom DeLay's comment, that Republicans were depressed, and they needed to get up fight, and they'd already sort of given up on the elections. What this has done -- and let's also remember that a week ago we talking about a Republican win in California, which they had really fears they might lose. So they've had a couple of really good, positive hits. This has energized Republicans on the Hill, along with the fact they really are beginning to give Josh Bolten, the president's new chief of staff, high marks for some of the changes he's made that really has improved relationships on the Hill.

So there is a better mood, and insofar as a better mood translates into going back home and being more optimistic and upbeat, and saying to people, as Karl Rove suggested they do in a New Hampshire speech, go on back and talk about the economy, because it's good, and go on back and make no apologies for this war, because we were removed a cruel dictator. So this has given them more force, and it certainly improved the attitude for this week. S. O'BRIEN: Candy Crowley and John King and Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us. Listen, guys, I'm going to ask you to stick around. We're only a few minutes away from hearing from the president in the Rose Garden. We'll get back to you guys in just a little bit. Of course, those are just a few of the members of CNN's best political team on television.

As we mentioned, we're expecting those words from the president at 9:45 a.m. Eastern Time. CNN is going to carry that for you live when it happens in the Rose Garden.

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


M. O'BRIEN: A little more than four minutes away from the president's Rose Garden news conference. From the Green Zone to the Rose Garden he comes after a five-hour whirlwind visit, surprise to most of us. The Green Zone in Baghdad, a visit with Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq. There you see live pictures from the Rose Garden. As soon as the president walks out, we're going to bring it you.

In the meantime, we have our correspondents, the best team in politics, standing by. John King, who was on the plane with the president, and our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, as well.

John, had you a chance on the way back to spend some time with the president. He talked with you, 30 minutes or so, you and the pool that was with him. How would you describe his mood?

KING: He was quite upbeat and he was very cognizant of the fact that he was upbeat about Iraq in the past, has been upbeat about Iraq in the past, and has been burned by it. But the president said that he does believe, now that he had this eyeball-to-eyeball look with the new prime minister, that Iraq now has -- and he said this several times -- a legitimate government, a government that will be viewed legitimately by the Iraqi people.

In the past, there had been the coalition-imposed government. There was the first provisional government. And the Iraqi people have viewed that -- those governments -- as puppets of the United States, or unduly under the influence of the United States. He said he believes this time because it was so hard to put this government together, get the Sunnis, the Shia and the Kurd to cooperate; that the people of Iraq will view this as a legitimate government. And if this government can, as you see today in Baghdad with the security crackdown, provide just simply better day-to-day life -- make it safe to go to the market, make it safe to go to school, make it so you can have electricity 18 hours a day instead of 12 hours a day.

The president believes that if they prime minister can, as he told the president he would, over the next few months start to show people you have a government that is working for you, that that government then becomes legitimate in the eyes of the people and any popular support for the insurgency, any popular support for sectarian violence, diminishes substantially.

For all the trips the president can take, for all the things he can say in the Rose Garden, the president is well aware that he might be able to move the numbers a little bit, move the dial a little bit here in the United States. If he is to change the mood of country about Iraq, period, by the end of his presidency, let alone by the elections this November, the situation in Iraq simply has to improve. It sounds very simple, but the president would say, it's just a true fact.

S. O'BRIEN: John, thank you.

Let's get right to Elaine Quijano. She's at the White House this morning as wait a few minutes until the president comes out and makes his remarks. Elaine, you know, you just heard from John how upbeat the president is. And he has said earlier, whether you agree with him or not, he believes in what he's saying. Do you think that that's going to be the primary message from the president today, a message to the American people that he is feeling very positive and very upbeat about the situation in Iraq?

ELAINE QUIJANO, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Soledad. An administration official is saying that the president, first of all, is going to be making a brief statement before actually taking questions from reporters. And in that statement, of course, we expect him to talk about the new Iraq prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki. We understand that he will lay out some of the priorities that Prime Minister Maliki has mentioned. He will also say that the prime minister is, in fact, taking action.

The president, though, as John King noted, well aware of the security challenges on the ground. The president today will say that there are challenges that remain; that, in fact, there are serious challenges, and there will be more sacrifice.

And we understand the president is coming out now. But the president's message overall is that the sacrifice is well worth it.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning. Thank you.

I've just returned from Baghdad. And I was inspired to be able to visit the capital of a free and democratic Iraq.

It was a pleasure to meet face to face with the prime minister. I talked to him on the phone a couple of times, but I thought it was important to sit down with him and talk to him in person.

I saw firsthand the strength of his character and his deep determination to succeed; to build a country that can sustain itself, govern itself and defend itself.

I also had the pleasure of meeting the people who work for the U.S. government: our embassy staff, the intelligence community. And I had a chance to thank them. You know, theirs is a tough job. And they're far away from home, and, obviously, they miss their families. And it was an honor to say to them, I appreciate their hard work and so do the American people.

And I met with our troops. I had a chance to congratulate those that were responsible for bringing Zarqawi to justice.

You know, when you're in a theater like that, it's important to hear words of congratulations sometimes, to hear that their efforts are appreciated -- and doing hard work. And I got to do that.

General Casey briefed me on the operations that followed the death of Zarqawi. He told me that Iraqi and coalition forces are still on the offense, that they launched a series of raids on terrorist targets across Iraq.

We've got new intelligence from those raids which will enable us to continue to keep the pressure on the foreigners and local Iraqis that are killing innocent lives to stop the advance of a country that can sustain itself and govern itself and defend itself.

Obviously, the raids aren't going to end terrorism. I understand that and the American people understand that.

And the Iraqi people understand that.

But the terrorists are vulnerable. And we will strike their network and disrupt their operations and continue to bring their leaders to justice.

Prime Minister Maliki and I held a joint meeting of our two cabinets; members of my Cabinet participating by video, some of whom were slightly surprised to see me from afar.

I told the prime minister how impressed I was to meet the team he assembled. They are good people, from different walks of life.

I appreciated very much the agenda he's laid out. In other words, he's got a plan to succeed.

And I appreciated their determination -- it's not just his determination, but their cabinet's determination to succeed.

In other words, part of the success in Iraq depends upon the Iraqis and their will and their desire.

The Iraqi people have expressed their desires, and now it's up to the government to follow through.

The prime minister briefed us on immediate steps he's taken in three key areas: to improve security, to build up the Iraqi economy so they can see -- the Iraqi people can see real progress, real economic progress, and he's reaching out to the international community to help secure support for this new government.

We discussed ways that my administration can help the prime minister accomplish these objectives. The policy of the United States government is to stand with this new government and help them succeed, and we will do what it takes to help them succeed.

The prime minister has taken immediate action to implement a plan to improve security, and his top priority is around Baghdad.

Operation Together Forward started this morning. This operation is a joint effort to restore security and rule of law to high-risk areas in the capital city.

It will be carried out by some 26,000 Iraqi soldier, some 23,000 Iraqi police, backed up by over 7,200 coalition forces.

Iraqi troops will increase the number of checkpoints, enforce a curfew and implement a strict weapons ban across the Iraqi capital.

Baghdad is a city of more than six and a half million residents. And we got to recognize that it's going to take time for these operations to take hold.

Iraqi and coalition forces are also working to restore security in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.

The prime minister's plan to bring militias and other armed groups under government control is moving forward. And we talked about that plan. He understands how important it is to rein in these militias.

Many militia members will be demobilized and integrated into the Iraqi security forces, where they'll be dispersed among different units and, obviously, monitored closely by the government.

I directed General Casey and our ambassador to work with the prime minister on this really important effort so we can make clear the illegal militias have no future in a free Iraq.

Prime Minister Maliki is working to build confidence in the Iraqi security forces. And he has a plan to do that. To assist him, we'll continue embedding coalition transition teams in Iraqi army and police units.

We've deployed advisory teams to assist Iraq's new ministries of -- ministers of defense and interior, both of whom I met.

We want to help them build the command-and-control capacity of their ministries. In other words, you can't have an effective army unless you've got command-and-control coming out of government.

We want to establish an internal affairs bureaus to root out corruption. No question, this government has got to deal with corruption at all levels in order to earn the confidence of the people.

And, of course, we will encourage them and help them investigate and punish human rights violations, in order to earn the confidence of all Iraqis. Part of the prime minister's plan is to improve the Iraqi judicial system. And to assist him, I've directed the attorney general and the secretaries of state and defense to work together on a new rule of law initiative. Under this initiative, we'll help train Iraqi judges, increase security so they can do their jobs, improve Iraqi prison capacity and help the Iraqi government provide equal justice for all its citizens.

Prime Minister Maliki is promoting reconciliation among the Iraqi people. And during my discussions with his cabinet and others, the concept of reconciliation kept coming up; people know they've got to reconcile the past in order to have a bright future.

He told us he's going to soon appoint a reconciliation committee that will focus on resolving specific concerns of different Iraqi communities.

We will support his efforts to bring the Iraqis together by encouraging leaders from countries like South Africa to share their experiences with this new government to help them reconcile the past.

Secondly, the prime minister has a plan to revitalize the Iraqi economy. He understands that the people have got to feel benefits from the new government. I mean, it's a simple concept, but it's a profound one.

I've directed our secretary of treasury and the Treasury Department to send teams of experts to Iraq to help the government create a public finance system that is accountable and transparent. These advisers will help Iraqis develop an economic framework that promotes growth and job creation and opportunity.

I've directed the secretaries of commerce and agriculture to travel to Iraq as soon as possible to meet with their counterparts.

To revitalize the Iraqi economy, the prime minister's working to increase oil and electricity production. We spent a lot of time talking about energy in Iraq.

I reminded the government that that oil belongs to the Iraqi people and the government has the responsibility to be good stewards of that valuable asset and valuable resource.

We have -- we're working with the Iraqi government on measures to protect key infrastructure from insurgent attacks. There's rapid repair teams that are being established that'll quickly restore oil and electricity production if and when attacks do occur.

I've directed the secretary of energy to travel to Iraq to meet with his counterpart and identify ways we can provide additional support.

It's up to the Iraqis to pass a hydrocarbon law, which they're now debating.

It's up to the Iraqi government to decide what to do with the people's asset.

Our advice is to be careful and to develop it with the people's interest in mind.

Finally, the prime minister is taking immediate action to engage the international community. And we're going to help him. Earlier, the international community pledged about $13 billion to help this new government, and they've only paid about $3 billion. And so we're going to help encourage those who made a pledge to pay up, to help the new government succeed.

Plus, he's working to develop what he's calling an international compact. Under this compact, Iraq will take a series of steps in the political, economic and security areas, and then the international community will provide more robust political and economic support.

The prime minister -- I told the prime minister I'll designate Deputy Treasury Secretary Bob Kimmitt to lead our efforts on behalf of our country and the people of this country.

He'll be supported by State Department counselor Phil Zelikow and other senior officials. And they will soon travel to the United Nations and then to Baghdad for consultations.

And then they're going to travel across Europe and Asia and the Middle East to discuss the compact and secure support from governments for this new government.

I was impressed with the prime minister. And I'm impressed by his team. I told him that America is a nation that meets its commitments and keeps its word. And that's what we're going to do in Iraq.

It's in our interest that Iraq succeed. More importantly, it's in the interest of the Iraqi people.

The challenges that remain are serious. And they will require more sacrifice and patience. And our efforts are well worth it.

By helping this new government succeed, we'll be closer to completing our mission. And the mission is to develop a country that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself, and a country that is an ally in the war on terror.

We'll seize this moment of opportunity to help the prime minister. We'll defeat our common enemies. We'll help build a lasting democracy in the heart of the Middle East, and that'll make Americans and Iraqis and the world more secure.

I'll now take your questions.

QUESTION: You said yesterday that a standard of no violence in Iraq is an impossible standard to meet. But do you believe that there needs to be a reduction in violence for U.S. troops to begin to drawdown? And if so, how much? BUSH: Yes, I'd say that if people say, "Well, there's got to be no violence in order for this to be a successful experience," then it's not going to happen. All that does is give the power of, you know, a handful of murderers to determine success.

Obviously, we'd like violence to go down, and that's what the operation in Baghdad is intending to do -- starting in the capital -- is to reduce violence.

And the reason why it's important for violence to be reduced, obviously, is one, save lives; but, two, give confidence to the Iraqi people that their government will be able to sustain itself and govern itself and meet the needs of the people.

Now, this is a tough struggle. And the reason why is because the rules of warfare as -- you know, as we used to know them are out the window. I mean, there's no rules of warfare; it's just, if you can kill innocent life in order to shake somebody's will or create consternation in society, just go ahead and do it.

And so it's a tough task; no question about it. But I'm confident that this government will succeed in meeting that task.

And the reason why I said that we shouldn't have -- you know, use the level of -- you know, have a zero-violence, you know, expectation is because there are other measures to determine success, starting with political measures.

I mean, this is a government which is now a unity government, formed under a constitution that the people voted for.

That's success.

The question is: Can this government sustain itself? And that will be determined if -- whether or not they're able to get electricity and use the oil resources wisely. Can it defend itself? And that -- one way to measure whether it can defend itself is -- you know, through the strength of their army and their police.

And so, that's what I said.

And the second part of your question?

QUESTION: Do you have a specific target for how much you want that violence to be reduced?

BUSH: Enough for the government to succeed. In other words, it's -- the Iraqi people have got to have confidence in this unity government. And reduction in violence will enable the people to have confidence.

And you said something about troop levels? Our policy is stand- up, stand-down: As the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down. But if we stand down too soon, it won't enable us to achieve our objectives.

And we will support this Iraqi government. That's what I went to tell them. We'll do what it takes to support them. And part of that support is the presence of coalition forces.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

You expressed serious concern when you learned about the Guantanamo suicides, and you and your aides immediately called allies.

I'm wondering, how concerned are you about the U.S. image abroad, based on this incident and the ongoing investigation in Haditha and Abu Ghraib and other incidents?

And also, why shouldn't Guantanamo be closed now?

BUSH: I'd like to close Guantanamo. But I also recognize that we're holding some people that are darned dangerous, and that we'd better have a plan to deal with them in our courts. And the best way to handle -- in my judgment handle these types of people is through our military courts. And that's why we're waiting on the Supreme Court to make a decision.

Part of closing Guantanamo is to send some folks back home, like we've been doing. And the State Department is in the process of encouraging, you know, countries to take the folks back.

Of course, sometimes we get criticized for sending some people out of Guantanamo back to their home country because of the nature of the home countries; a little bit of a catch-22.

But we're working through this.

No question, Guantanamo sends, you know, a signal to some of our friends -- provides an excuse, for example, to say, "The United States is not upholding the values that they're trying encourage other countries to adhere to."

And my answer to them is is that we are a nation of laws and rule of law. Now, these people -- picked up off the battlefield, and they're very dangerous. And so we have that balance between customary justice -- you know, the typical system -- and one that will be done in the military courts. And that's what we're waiting for.

Eventually, these people will have trials and they will have counsel and they will be represented in a court of law.

I say "these people": those who are not sent back to their mother countries.

You know, we've sent a lot of people home already. I don't think the American people know that, nor do the citizens of some of the countries that are concerned about Guantanamo.

You mentioned Abu Ghraib: No question it's set a terrible example. I was asked at press conference in the East Room with Tony Blair -- you know, mistakes. Abu Ghraib was a terrible mistake.

I was asked that question, by the way, about Abu -- very same question you asked -- by a member of the Iraqi cabinet. And I told her -- I said that where there's allegations, you know, we will investigate.

And I reminded her that ours is a transparent society where people will see and follow these investigations. And people will be held to account, according to our laws.

But I also want the people to understand, here and around the world, that 99.9 percent of our troops are honorable, decent people who are serving our country under difficult conditions. And I'm proud of them. I'm proud of the United States military.

And that's a message our military and their families must consistently hear, that they're doing fine work.

I understand the politics and all that. But I'm going to continue to remind them that, "Set politics aside, this nation owes you a debt of gratitude."

So we'll deal with these incidents.

And we'll deal with them in an upfront way.

And -- but I'm not going to let those -- these incidents stain the reputation of our military. They're good people. They really are.


QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

BUSH: Roger, roger.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

Mr. President, you've said that you trust the markets to guide you. But stock and bond markets are telling us that inflation is a growing concern. Is there a threat that inflation is going to derail the economic expansion?

BUSH: There are a lot of indicators about the strength of our economy, starting with job creation, productivity increases. The entrepreneurial spirit is strong.

You know, there's a lot of positive things.

And, obviously, the Fed is watching the signals for inflation very carefully. They'll make decisions independent of the White House.

On fiscal policy, though, I would strongly urge the Congress to recognize why we have grown the way we have grown, why we're -- we've got strong economic growth in the first quarter of this year, why we have added over 5 million new jobs in a -- in two and three-quarters years.

And that's because the tax cuts are working. And they need to make the tax cuts permanent. Pro-growth economic policies work. And that's why I've been calling for permanence in the tax code.

And so, there'll be -- monetary policy, we'll pay attention very carefully to signs -- inflationary signs. That's Ben Bernanke's job.

Our job is to work with Congress to have wise fiscal policy. And wise fiscal policy means not only keeping revenues low, but it also means being wise about how we spend the people's money.

I called Chairman Lewis this morning to congratulate him on getting a good supplemental out of the House of Representatives. It's a supplemental that meets our numbers and meets the requirements for a good bill.

And evidently, it's going to be voted on in the Senate here pretty quick. And I look forward to signing that piece of legislation, should it make it to my desk.

Let's see here -- Jake Tapper? Yes, filling in, huh?

QUESTION: How you doing, sir?

BUSH: I'm doing all right. Thank you. A little jet lagged, as I'm sure you can imagine. Nearly 60.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Thank you. Good...

BUSH: I'm not sure you possibly can empathize. But nevertheless...


QUESTION: Jet lag -- I understand jet lag.

BUSH: OK. Good.

QUESTION: What are your feelings about discussions in the new Iraqi government of amnesty for insurgents?

And regarding the oil resources in Iraq that you discussed, do you support guaranteeing the Sunnis a percentage of the oil profits, either through a new law or through a constitutional provision?

BUSH: Yes, that's a -- not a bad question for a substitute guy.


I believe that the Iraqi government -- first of all, the decision on what to do with their resources is their decision, not mine, and so this is advisory. These are people that are elected and under a constitution.

My advice to them is to use their energy assets as a way to unite the country. And by that I mean that people will have a -- they may not have oil resources in their provinces, but would have a stake in how the resources are developed elsewhere in the country, in other words.

One option I laid out the other day for them to consider -- I must confess, this isn't probably the best way to convince a government to do something is to put it out through the press. But I did suggest a royalty trust on behalf of the Iraqi people. Other countries have tried that. The state of Alaska has tried that.

To me, it's an interesting idea for them to consider to basically say that, "No matter where you live in the country, you have a stake in the future of your country because of your ownership in our energy assets."

Other part of the question?

QUESTION: Probable amnesty for insurgents?

BUSH: Yeah. I talked to the prime minister about -- his question is possible amnesty. The prime minister, I think, would say "reconciliation."

This is an issue that is on the minds of a lot of the folks there in Iraq.

In other words, they're trying to figure out, you know, how to reconcile an ugly past with a hopeful future. And part of that is reconciliation whether -- and I'm not exactly sure how you would -- what you mean by -- if somebody's committed a crime, I don't know whether or not they'll be that lenient, frankly.

But I do recognize that -- I mean, they recognize that, for example, Baath Party membership in order to secure a job or to be able to get an advanced degree is -- should be a -- you know, a part -- it shouldn't be held against a person.

And I think their willing to balance the difference between terror and -- expediency isn't the right word, but terror and a membership of a party to advance one's, you know, life.

And I was impressed. I was impressed by their -- you know, the sophisticated nature of that discussion and their recognition that it's really important to do the best they can to reconcile the past.

One of the things I was looking for was -- first of all, I'm convinced this government will succeed. And one of the reasons I am is because there's a sense of hopefulness.

If you're a person stuck in the past, you tend to be bitter and look for ways to, you know, seek revenge. I didn't sense that.

I did have a strong sense that they're really happen to get rid of Saddam Hussein, to a person. They believe he wrecked their country in more ways than one. It was clear he wrecked their infrastructure. And it is clear that he wrecked a lot of lives. But I didn't have that great sense of, you know, people being so bound up in bitterness that they weren't willing to think positive about the future. And I think that's important. I really do.

Gregory, fine looking scarf -- not scarf. What do you call that thing?

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

BUSH: It's strong (ph), you know.

QUESTION: Thank you.

Mr. President, you made a public point of soliciting outside advice about the way forward in Iraq and retooling your strategy.

I wonder what idea from a critic or somebody outside your administration that you concluded should be part of the strategy going forward.

BUSH: Well, I think -- I've gotten a lot of advice from people.

You know, one of the interesting debates from the outside community is troop levels. I've got people say, "You need to increase the number of forces. Now." I've gotten people that say, "Well, the role of the United States ought to be more indirect than it has been" -- in other words, in a supporting role.

To those folks, I say, "Look, I'm going to rely upon General Casey." And -- but I did share with him the philosophies that were reflected in a conversation over lunch at Camp David.

I've had people come in and say, "You better make sure that the Iraqi forces are well-tooled to do their job." In other words, there's people who've gone over there and taken a hard look -- have felt like that the Iraqi forces were not equipped well enough to be able to stand up as we stand down.

I asked that question to General Casey, and the area where he agrees with the critics is that they don't quite have the capability to move themselves around the country.

In other words, they need more mobility. And he recognizes that and will -- and is working toward an Iraqi army that has more mobility.

Obviously, there's been, you know, criticism about our reconstruction plan: that we started with big projects that were sometimes blown up or sometimes didn't get off the ground like we hoped. And that's why we morphed a lot of our aid into a PRT approach, where local commanders had the capacity to get money out more quickly.

But I appreciate people's advice and I appreciate their candor.

I am going to meet this afternoon with a group of folks put together by the Peace Institute. We're going to take a look at Iraq.

And the reason I'm bringing that up to you is that it's important for people to share their advice with this administration. This is important business. And it's not easy. It's a complex task to help a society go from tyranny to freedom.

The American people have got to understand, I believe we're going to succeed. That's why we're there.

And my message to the Iraqis is, "We're going to help you succeed."

My message to the enemy is, "Don't count on us leaving before we succeed."

My message to our troops is, "We support you 100 percent. Keep doing what you're doing."

And my message to the critics is is that, "We listen very carefully and adjust when needed to adjust."

This policy will be driven by the people on the ground. Those are the folks who are going to ultimately make the recommendations that I'll accept. It's important to get advice. I share the advice with our commanders and with Zal.

BUSH: They're the folks who are right there. These are very competent, capable people who understand the Iraqi situation well. And their judgment is important and I listen very carefully to it as -- along the way.

Sheryl (ph)? Yeah. Welcome. We have a couple of newcomers today, sitting next to Tapper.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. I'm pleased to be here.

Mr. President, polls show that the public thinks Democrats can do a better job of running the country than Republicans. Are you concerned that Republicans will lose control of Congress in November? And do you think there's anything you could have done differently to put them in a better position coming up in the midterms?

BUSH: I remember 2004, at one point people either stood up and said, "You know, there's no way you can get re-elected," if you'd've been listening to those polls. I can't remember. I was probably down double digits at some point.

And they said, you know, "How can you possibly stand there and tell us you're going to get re-elected?"

Listen, the elections are a long way off. What's going to matter is who's got the plan that will enable us to succeed in Iraq and keep the economy growing.

And I look forward to the campaign. And I believe we're going to hold the House and the Senate, because our philosophy is one that is forward-looking and optimistic and has worked.

We got a record to run on.

There's an interesting debate in the Democrat Party about how quick to pull out of Iraq. Pulling out of Iraq before we accomplish the mission will make the world a more dangerous place. It's bad policy. I know it may sound good politically; it'll endanger our country to pull out of Iraq before we accomplish the mission.

See, Iraq is a part of the global war on terror. It's not the global war on terror, it's a theater in the global war on terror.

And if we fail in Iraq, it's going to embolden Al Qaida types. It'll weaken the resolve of moderate nations to stand up to these Islamic fascists. It'll cause people to lose their nerve and not stay strong.

And so I look forward to taking the debate -- that's not quite right. Kind of, getting warmed up as a result of your question. The timing's not right for me to get out there yet.

But I think the Democrat economic policy of raising people's taxes isn't going to work either.

I know they'll couch it in all kinds of language. But really what they're saying is, "We're going to raise your taxes."

And so, I -- you know, Sheryl (ph), thanks for your question. I don't necessarily buy your premise. I feel confident we will hold the House and the Senate.

Let's see here. Peter?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Mr. President, when you ran for office for the first time, you said you would hold the White House to a higher ethical standard. Even if Karl Rove did nothing illegal, I wonder whether you can say now whether you approve of his conduct in the CIA leak episode. And do you believe he owes Scott McClellan or anyone else an apology for misleading them?

BUSH: I appreciate the job that the prosecutor did. I thought he conducted himself well in this investigation. He took a very thorough, long look at allegations and rumors.

And I, obviously along with others in the White House, took a sigh of relief when he made the decision he made.

And now we're going to move forward.

And I trust Karl Rove. And he's an integral part of my team.

There's an ongoing trial here. And I know the temptation is -- not the temptation; you'll keep asking questions during the course of the trial. I'm not going to comment beyond that. Thank you.

Yes. Jim Axelrod?

QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. President.

You seem quite energized by this moment of opportunity.

BUSH: No, I'm just fighting off fatigue.


QUESTION: I know the feeling, sir.

I'm wondering, though, if there are ever moments of doubt about your decisions and strategy in Iraq.

Do you ever have a moment where you feel this just won't end well; that no matter how many Zarqawis are killed, the insurgents are just never going to give up?

BUSH: Well, one of the reasons I went to Iraq was to be able to sit down with an Iraqi government to determine whether or not they have the will to succeed.

Success in Iraq depends upon the Iraqis. If the Iraqis don't have the will to succeed, they're not going to succeed.

We can have all the will we want. You know, I can have all the confidence in the ability for us to, you know, bring people to justice, but if they choose not to make the hard decisions and to implement a plan, they're not going to make it.

And so one of the things I went to Iraq to do was to, as best I possibly can, expel any doubt in my mind as to whether or not we have a partner that is going to do the hard work.

One of the interesting things -- and, by the way, I believe we will have a partner to do the hard work.

I made it clear to the government there that it's up to them to succeed. It's really up to them to put a plan in place and execute it.

We'll help. But it's -- they were elected by the people. They're living under a constitution that the people endorsed. And they have to follow through.

And that's why I was most interested in hearing the prime minister's plans on electricity and energy and security. As I mentioned to you, there's an operation now going on in Baghdad that he helped put together, that we're helping him on.

He recognizes that the capital city of a country sends important signals to the rest of the country -- the security of the capital city -- to the country and the world. He knows that. And that's why he has worked out a robust plan, with our help.

And so doubts about whether or not this government can -- has got the will to go forward was expelled. That's why I went.

In other words, sitting here in America wondering whether or not, you know, these people have got what it takes is -- you know, can create uncertainty. I've eliminated that uncertainty. I was able to sit with the man and talk to him.

I was also pleased to meet with his cabinet. You might remember, it wasn't all that long ago that there were some doubts in people's minds as to whether or not this government had the capacity to put a unity government.

As a matter of fact, there was doubts after the first election as to whether or not a portion of the population would even participate in the elections.

And, you know, last December a lot of folks voted, from all different aspects of society, and the government reflects that. And that was important for me to see firsthand as well.

The enemy has an advantage in this war, because they can get on our TV screens every day. And, of course, it upsets me when I see the loss of innocent life.

And it upsets me to know that our service men and women are losing their lives. I mean, it's -- I'm like most Americans. I -- you know, it is -- death is -- affects my way of thinking.

But I also understand the stakes of this war, OK. I understand how important it is to defeat the enemy.

Now, I recognize some in the country don't feel that same sense of urgency I do. But Al Qaida's real. Their philosophy is a real philosophy. They have ambitions. Their stated goal is to drive us out of Iraq before a government can defend itself and govern itself and sustain itself so they can safe -- have safe haven from which to launch further attacks.

And my most important job is to protect the American people from harm. And I understand the stakes of this war. And I understand this battlefront in Iraq.

And I want to repeat something: Iraq is not the only part of this war.

It's an essential part. But it's not the only part of the war on terror.

And so the decisions I make are all aimed at protecting the American people and understanding the vast stakes involved.

If the United States of America leaves before this Iraqi government can defend itself and sustain itself and govern itself, it'll be a major blow in the war on terror. Al Qaida will benefit.

And make no mistake about it: They still want to do innocent people harm, whether it be in the Middle East or whether it be here in the United States of America.

The stakes are high in Iraq.

And my trip over there gave me confidence that we have a partner that is capable of setting priority and developing a plan to make those priorities, and then following through to see that those priorities are met.

And my assurances to him, "Where you get good plans and you have the desire to follow through, we'll help you. We'll help you. We will do what it takes to help you succeed. It's in our national interest to do so."

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Could you characterize the worry you heard from Iraqi leaders about U.S. troop levels, that you first mentioned on the flight home from Iraq. And here in the Rose Garden a week ago, you said Zarqawi's death is an opportunity for Iraq's new government to turn the tide in this struggle.

After your visit, do you truly believe that the tide is turning in Iraq?

BUSH: The first part of the question -- sorry?

QUESTION: About the worry...

BUSH: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

No question, there are concerns about whether or not the United States will stand with this government. And I can understand why. You know, ours is a society that encourages debate, and people are free to express themselves. And they do so. They say, "Look, it's my view of how we ought to go forward. This is what I think."

And -- you know, the willingness of some to say that if we're in power, we'll withdraw on a set timetable concerns people in Iraq, because they understand our coalition forces provide a sense of stability so they can address old wrongs and develop their strategy and plan to move forward. They need our help, and they recognize that. And so they are concerned about that.

I'm concerned that an enemy will hear the wrong message. And then I'm also concerned that there are people inside Iraq that have yet to make up their mind as to whether or not they want to help this government succeed or maybe -- just maybe -- America will lose its nerve and therefore something else, a new team may show up.

And so I made it very clear to the Iraqis -- and I'm going to make it clear to them again right here -- that we'll stay with them and help them succeed. And I know there's a lot of discussion about troop levels.

Those troops levels will be decided upon by General Casey. He will make the recommendations, in consultation with an Iraqi government.

But whatever decision General Casey makes, the message is going to be: We stand with you. In other words, if you're more capable, it requires less troops but, nevertheless, we're still with you.

Other part?


BUSH: Yes, I think -- tide turning, see, as I remember it -- I was raised in the desert -- but tides kind of -- it's easy to see a tide turn. Did I say those words?


BUSH: Yes, I probably ought to then reflect on those words and think that I sense something different happening in Iraq. The progress will be steady toward a goal that has clearly been defined.

And I don't -- in other words, I hope there's not an expectation from people that all of a sudden there's going to be zero violence.

In other words, that's just not going to be the case.

On the other hand, I do think we'll be able to measure progress. You can measure progress in capacity of Iraqi units. You can measure progress in megawatts of electricity delivered. You can measure progress in terms of oil sold on the market on behalf of the Iraqi people.

There are ways to determine whether or not this government's plans are succeeding. But I know there's a tangible difference between the government that's now in place and previous governments.

And the reason why is because this is a government that's formed under elections and a constitution. And it's a unity government.

So people have a sense of, you know, they're pulling for their government to succeed. And the reason why is, by far, the vast majority of Iraqis want a normal life.

They want their children to be able to go out in the street and play. They want there to be a good education system. You know, they want to be able to have their storefront business flourish without fear of bombing. I mean, that's what they want.

And so they're pulling for this government to succeed. And it's a government that they elected. It's not a government that we appointed. It's a government that they elected.

They have a vital stake in the future of this government. And so there is a noticeable change. And whoever said it's a tide turning and all that needs -- never mind.


QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

What kind of signal do you think it sends to the Iraqi people that your administration notified the leader of Iraq's sovereign government only five minutes beforehand of your arrival? And was there a specific security concern about either Prime Minister Maliki's inner circle or others that led you to make that decision?

BUSH: No, I think -- look, it's a security concern because I'm a, you know, high-value target for some. And Iraq's a dangerous place.

And the American people have got to know that I will take precautions when I travel somewhere. I'm not going to put our government at risk to, you know, achieve a very important trip.

And, therefore, we were -- a lot of people didn't know about it. Half my Cabinet didn't know about it. Does that mean I'm going to run them off? No. I just -- we want to make sure we're extra, extra, extra secret about this deal.

And the reason why is Iraq's dangerous. It's a dangerous place. And I think if there was, you know, ample notification that I was coming, it perhaps would have given somebody a chance to plan. And we just don't want to take that risk.

There's no question about Prime Minister Maliki's -- you know, when he walked in, I didn't fear. I was happy to see him and he was happy to see me.

But you should expect the president to be -- I take precaution when I go somewhere here in the United States; obviously not to that extent. But, nevertheless, we're careful.

And that's what the people expect us -- to be careful. And I appreciate the -- I appreciate the efforts that went into this trip. There are a lot of people that worked hard to make sure this worked, and it worked well. It was a good trip.

And it was an exciting trip, by the way. I was up there in the cockpit of that airplane coming into Baghdad, watching Colonel Tillman steer us in. It was unbelievable -- unbelievable -- feeling.

And walking in that ballroom there in Saddam's old palace to see our -- see our people on the front lines of changing history was an exciting moment for me.

It's a thrill to be able to shake their hands and look them in the eye and tell them America appreciates what they're doing. I really, really appreciated the fact that I was able to go.

And no matter how secret it was.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

You just mentioned that you think the United States will be able to measure progress in terms of electricity and oil and violence.

And I'm wondering if you can say how you're going to measure that in terms of time. In other words, are you going to put a six-month time frame on this or a 12-month time frame on this?

BUSH: Look, I understand the pressures to put timetables out there -- on everything. And my answer to you is is that we will work with the Iraqi government to do what's realistic.

And the people on the ground will help me understand what is realistic. We will know whether or not the government is capable of following through because we're going to help them follow through.

The answer to electricity is sooner the better. It's hot over there and it'd be helpful if people had, you know, the capacity to cool their homes. I'd be a pretty good signal that the government is making a difference in somebody's life.

There are certain projects that are easier to achieve than others. You know, fixing the infrastructure of the northern Iraq oil fields is going to be more difficult to do. It's old, it's tired, it's been destroyed by an enemy, and it's going to take a while to get that done.

So we've got to be realistic with this government.

But, nevertheless, I do believe that it makes sense to develop with them benchmarks so that we can measure progress. And once those are in place, and to the extent they are, we'll be glad to share them with you.

Part of my visit yesterday was a strategy session to sit down with a partner, the prime minister, Maliki, to figure out how to move forward, to listen to his plans and how we can help his plans.

The important thing for me to hear from him is, "Here's what I intend to do," he says; not, "Here's what we want you to do," like the oil suggestion. I really meant what I said: It was just a suggestion. It wasn't, you know, "You must do this."

And same with electricity. And he made a point to have his electricity minister brief my Cabinet, because he wanted us to know that he has a plan to put in place.

The guy, by the way, said, "I need your help." And we'll provide the help as best as we can.

But, you know, the ultimate judge about whether this government is making a difference is going to be the Iraqi people. And these elected officials know that. That's the great thing about being elected: You get a sense if people don't, kind of, like what you're doing or not. And democracy causes you to respond to the people's needs. Tyrants don't have to. They don't have to -- sometimes they may have to, but they always have got a -- kind of, an interesting way of helping suppress dissent.

This elected government is going to have to respond to the people. And that's a big change.

Remember that Saddam did a really good job of milking the society to keep himself in power. In other words, the infrastructure's destroyed -- or a lot of it's destroyed and dilapidated. We heard that over and over again in Baghdad.

People said, "You've got to understand how backward we are compared to where we want to be."

And he divided society and pitted people against each other in order to justify his own presence. And we're having to deal with that. The Iraqis are having to deal with that.

And I was impressed by their willingness to be upfront about the past. And it's going to be difficult work, no question about it. There are still resentments and bitterness and, you know, people wondering, does the future belong to them -- the Sunni population.

I was impressed, by the way, by the speaker. Denny Hastert told me I'd like him. Denny met with him. And I was impressed by him. He's a fellow that had been put in prison by Saddam and, interestingly enough, put in prison by us. And he made a decision to participate in the government.

And he was an articulate person. And he talked about running the parliament. It was interesting to see a person that could have been really bitter talk about the skills he's going to need to bring people together to run the parliament. And I found him to be a hopeful person.

They tell me that he wouldn't have taken my phone call a year ago. I think I might have shared this with you at one point in time. And there I was sitting next to the guy.

And he -- I think he enjoyed it as much as I did. It was a refreshing moment.

And the deputy speaker was there as well.

Let's see here.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Yesterday, while you were gone, Senator Kerry, who was your challenger in the last election...


BUSH: I remember that.

QUESTION: Remember that.

He said he now regrets his votes on the war. And actually I think Senator Clinton at the same meeting actually hear some boos when she said that she did not support a timetable for withdrawal.

Do you see, as some of your critics do, a parallel between what's going on in Iraq now and Vietnam?



BUSH: Because there's a duly elected government. Twelve million people voted. They said we want something different from tyranny. We want to live in a free society.

And not only did they vote for a government, they voted for a constitution.

Obviously, there is sectarian violence. But this is in many ways religious in nature. And I don't see the parallels.

And you know, look, I thought you were going to ask: Do I regret what I did? Absolutely not. I made the right decision in Iraq. It was the right thing to get rid of Saddam Hussein. And now it's the right thing to stand with this government when they build a new democracy.

And I remind the Iraqi people their democracy doesn't have to look like us. It's their country. And the government ought to reflect their traditions and their history.

All we expect is people to be treated with respect and there to be self-governance in a way that tolerates differences of opinion.

Yes? You going to ask that question with shades on?


BUSH: I'm interested in the shade look, seriously.

QUESTION: All right. I'll keep it then.

BUSH: For the viewers, there's no sun.


QUESTION: I guess it depends on your perspective.


BUSH: OK. Touche.


QUESTION: Following up on the other Peter's question about Karl Rove...

BUSH: Yes?

QUESTION: ... you said you were relieved with what happened yesterday. But the American public over the course of this investigation has learned a lot about what was going on in your White House that they didn't know before, during that time, the way some people were trying to go after Joe Wilson in some ways.

I'm wondering if, over the course of this investigation, you've learned anything that you didn't know before about what was going on in your administration. And do you have any work to do to rebuild credibility that might have been lost?

BUSH: I think that, first of all, the decision by the prosecutor speaks for itself. He had a full investigation. Karl Rove went in front of the grand jury, like -- a lot of times, more times than -- in other words, they took a hard look at his role.

Secondly, I told the other Peter and I'm going to tell you that there's an ongoing trial.

It's a serious business. And I've made the comments I'm going to make about this incident, and I'm going to put this part of the situation behind us and move forward.

Let's see here. Yes, yes, sure. Richard?

QUESTION: Mr. President, the death of Zarqawi and the formation of the new government in Iraq has given you a chance to reengage the American people on Iraq. A majority of the people still say that the war was a mistake.

Do you think that the people have turned off on Iraq or do you think they're still winnable back to consider that it was worth it?

BUSH: I think the people want to know can we win. That's what they want to know.

Listen, admittedly, there are a group of people in our country that say, "It wasn't worth it. Get out now." And that opinion's being expressed.

As these campaigns start approaching, you'll hear more people say, I suspect, you know, "It's a mistake. Bush shouldn't have done what he did. Pull out." And that's a legitimate debate to have in America, and I look forward to the debate.

I will remind the American people, if we pull out before we achieve our objective, the world will be a lot more dangerous and America will be more at risk.

Then there are some in the country that say, you know, "We understand the stakes but do they have a plan to win? Can they possibly win?" And I will continue to explain to the American people: Winning means a government that can sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself, and an ally in the war on terror, and we will help this government do that.

And one of the reasons I went to Iraq was to determine whether or not we have a partner which is capable of making the tough decisions necessary to achieve our objective.

The American people have got to understand that Iraq is a part of the war on terror.

Now, Richard, I fully understand how people might have made the decision that America is no longer under threat or the lessons of September the 11th were just momentary lessons. I can understand that.

But I have a responsibility to lay out what I believe. And the lessons learned from September the 11th are still a very integral part of my thinking. And I'll continue to make decisions based upon the lessons.

And I know there is an international jihadist movement that desires to do us harm and they have territorial ambitions. The reason I know that is that's what they've told us.

And part of their territorial ambition is to have safe haven in Iraq. That's what they've said. That's what the enemy has clearly said. And it seems like, to me, that the commander in chief ought to listen to what the enemy says.

And they believe capitalist and democratic societies are soft and it's a matter of time before we pull out.

And that's why one message that I will continue to send to the enemy is, "Don't count on us leaving before the mission is complete. Don't bet on it. Don't bet on American politics forcing my hand because it's not going to happen. I'm going to make decisions not based upon politics, but based upon what's best for the United States of America."

But I understand why people, Richard, are concerned, because progress is hard to see.

You know, it's one thing to say, "You know, we got Zarqawi; that's progress." It's another thing to say, "I met with the man and I believe he can make the right decisions." And so somebody's going to say, "Sure, well show me." And I understand that.

And I understand how tough it is for the American people to reconcile death on their TV screens when the president's saying we're making incremental progress toward an important goal.

But what I hope they understand is how important it is we succeed in Iraq, that the country is more dangerous -- the world is more dangerous if we don't -- that the world is more dangerous if we don't succeed.

And so I'm going to keep talking about it and talking about because I believe passionately we're doing the right thing, and I've told the American people this.

If I didn't think we could succeed and if I didn't think it was worth it, I'd pull our troops out. And I mean that.

And one reason I went to Iraq yesterday, no matter how secretive the trip was, was to get a firsthand feel for how those people are thinking over there, and what are they like?

I understand leadership. Leadership requires determination.

You've got to be determined to do something in order to be able to lead, particularly in difficult circumstances. You've got to have will, you know? You've got to have desire to succeed. And you've got to have a plan.

And that's what I found in Iraq.

It's really important that the Iraqi people have no doubt in their mind that we will help this government succeed. It's important for them to understand that.

And I know there's going to be different voices -- and there should be different voices -- out of America. That's where we're great. That's what makes us interesting and great. People can say whatever they want to say as they try to attract votes.

But my voice, what you hear from me no matter what these polls and all the business look like, is that it's worth it, it is necessary and we will succeed.

Thank you all very much.