Bush Addresses Hamas Victory, Spying, Torture Ban

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President Bush addressed the results of Palestinian elections in a press conference Thursday, and also spoke about his domestic surveillance program, his administration's stand on torture and the strength of the American military amid reports equipment and troop retention are beginning to break down. Alex Chadwick discusses the president's remarks with Don Gonyea.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

The Hamas victory was the lead question for President Bush at a White House press conference earlier today. NPR White House Correspondent Don Gonyea's with us. Don, the President said this is democracy in action. He also offered these remarks about Hamas.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I have made it very clear, however, that a political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as a part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal.

CHADWICK: So Don Gonyea, what do we know at this point about how the administration does plan to handle Hamas leadership.

DON GONYEA reporting:

I think they are trying to figure that out as we speak. They have been yesterday since these returns started to come in. The President was asked today, specifically, if he would work with a Hamas-led Palestinian government, and he was a little bit coy. His first response was, well, they have yet to actually form a government, so we have to see what that government looks like. So not a direct answer to the question there, but he does say that Hamas must renounce violence. So expect that kind of pressure to keep up, and you know they're busy at the State Department today.

CHADWICK: They are. He cited conversations with Secretary of State, a couple of them, and she made a statement today to a meeting of international leaders in Switzerland, saying, we're not going to talk to a terrorist organization.

GONYEA: Exactly. And the other point, though, that the President wanted to make was that this does not just utterly derail the so-called roadmap to peace. He says the people in the region do want peace. The United States is still committed to that idea that the President laid out early in his first term, that there should be an independent Palestinian state living in peace, side-by-side with Israel. He says that is still the goal, and he is not ready to admit today that that just stops because of this election.

CHADWICK: Questions about the wiretap program, Don, which Mr. Bush has been defending this week, that's having the National Security Agency listen in without a court warrant to phone conversations to and from this country to overseas persons with some kind of link to al-Qaeda. Again the President insisted this is legal.

GONYEA: He did, indeed. He said, as he has been saying now for weeks, but really aggressively traveling the country and at various appearances over the past week and a half or so, that the Constitution allows him to do this. That's the first point he makes. He also says that action Congress took post-9/11 gives the President powers to respond to terrorist attacks and that this falls under that authority that was granted.

He was asked, well what if Congress, which has some concerns about what you're doing, wrote a new law and worked with you to give you this power but specifically spelled out what you could do? And his response was, gee(ph), it's an interesting thing to talk about Congress writing a law to give you the power to do something that you can already do legally.

He was asked about why he circumvents that so-called FISA court that requires you to get warrants, and he got impatient on that one, and said, you use the term circumvent. That means I'm going around the law, and I'm not. So that really was the tone on this. They are not giving an inch on this subject.

CHADWICK: One more thing: the war on terror and the question of torture as a tool. This law that was sponsored by Senator McCain to ban torture. The President had signed a statement when he signed that bill into law kind of suggesting maybe he was reserving some power. He had a question on that. Here it is.

Unidentified Male: Could you call on your Texas straight talk and make a clear and unambiguous statement today that no American will be allowed to torture another human being anywhere in the world at anytime.

President BUSH: Yes. No American will be allowed to torture another human being anywhere in the world.

CHADWICK: Sounds pretty clear to me, Don.

GONYEA: Well, the White House hopes so. They hope this is kind of the final word on it, but they've had that hope before on this issue. Before Senator McCain pushed his amendment, the one that you talked about, the President signing there, and then there was the subsequent big debate. So, I mean, it is a cliché, Alex, but only time will tell if that's the end of this discussion.

CHADWICK: Lots of other subjects in the news conference today: Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, troop levels. I'm sure you'll be covering more of all of that later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, but I wanted to ask you about the timing of this news conference. There's also a big presidential interview in the Wall Street Journal today, another one tomorrow with CBS.

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