Bush Outlines Progress in War on Terror

President Bush gave what was billed as a "major address" Thursday about the war on terror. The speech did not introduce any significant new initiatives, but the president did talk about al Qaeda plots that had been disrupted.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Within the past hour, President Bush wrapped up a speech that the White House had billed as a major address on Iraq and the war on terror. The speech did not introduce any significant new initiatives, but the president did provide some details on progress that's been made.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Overall, the United States and our partners have disrupted at least 10 serious al-Qaeda terrorist plots since September the 11th, including three al-Qaeda plots to attack inside the United States. We've stopped at least five more al-Qaeda efforts to case targets in the United States or infiltrated operatives into our country.

MONTAGNE: President Bush speaking in Washington this morning.

NPR's intelligence correspondent Mary Louise Kelly joins me now. Good morning.

MARY LOUISE KELLY reporting:

Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Mary Louise, do we know anything about those attacks that the president spoke of being thwarted?

KELLY: No, we don't. This is the first time we've heard about this from official sources. It, of course, sounds significant and chilling to hear that at least three al-Qaeda plots inside the US have been disrupted in the past few years. The other mark of progress that the president cited was in efforts to keep terrorists from getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction. He mentioned that more than a dozen shipments of suspected weapons technology have been stopped, including some that were headed toward Iran's missile program. Which brings us actually to the other, I think, new thing I heard in the speech this morning: a harder line on Iran and Syria. The president said state sponsors, like Syria and Iran, deserve no patience and the US will be making no distinction between those who commit acts of terror and those who support and harbor them. He said, `We're going to hold those regimes to account.' Those are stronger words than we've heard before directed toward the governments in Syria and Iran.

MONTAGNE: So does that mean that this speech signals a change in tone for the president or the way he's describing the war on terror?

KELLY: I think we did hear a bit of that, the bit on Syria and Iran. It was also just the way in which they're framing the struggle against terrorism. You'll remember four years ago just after September 11th we heard a lot about the president wanted to get bin Laden dead or alive. They were going to smoke them out of their caves. It was a very individual struggle that the US was fighting against specific terrorists.

In this speech, he didn't mention bin Laden until several minutes into it. He didn't mention him that often. It was more about fighting a radical ideology. And I think we are hearing a shift in the way that the White House is approaching this. They've always said, `This is going to be a long struggle.' We heard them elaborate on that today, making comparisons, for example, to the Cold War which of course was a struggle against an ideology and which went on for generations.

MONTAGNE: The president once again this morning called Iraq the central front, in his words, in the war on terror. Any new details on the strategy there?

KELLY: There was nothing specifically new in terms of what's coming with Iraq. But the background--the backdrop to this speech of course is that the Iraq--Iraq is voting next week on the proposed constitution there. That constitution, we will see, it could be defeated. The president has specifically said we're likely to see more violence next week in the run-up with insurgents who would like to disrupt that vote. And all of this comes as recent polls are showing declining US support for the war and the death toll for US troops in Iraq is climbing. I think we're going to hit the 2,000 mark soon for US troops in Iraq. So those are the type of public opinion factors the president is trying to counter by coming out on the offensive here today in his speech on the war on terror.

MONTAGNE: Mary Louise, thanks very much.

KELLY: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Mary Louise Kelly updating us on the president's speech this morning on Iraq and the war on terror.

This is NPR News.

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