Bush Again Rejects Calls for Troop Pullout

President Bush spoke with reporters Wednesday morning on the White House lawn, just hours after returning from his unannounced visit to Baghdad to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his newly formed Cabinet. He reaffirmed America's commitment to supporting the new government in Iraq, and took aim at political opponents calling for withdrawal of U.S. forces.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, the effort to build a justice system in Iraq almost from scratch.

First, though, President Bush is back in Washington after his quick visit to Baghdad. He held a Rose Garden news conference this morning. The focus was Iraq. NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea was there, and he joins us now. Hi, Don.

DON GONYEA, reporting:

Hi. Glad to be here.

BRAND: Don, the president talked about his meeting with Iraq's Prime Minister al-Maliki. He praised the Iraqi leader's three-part plan for progress. And this is what he said.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: To improve security, to build up the Iraqi economy so they can see - 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.

BRAND: Don, what was the president's message today about the U.S. role in Iraq?

GONYEA: He's really trying to capitalize on what the White House sees as good news over the past week or so; the creation of the new Iraqi Cabinet, the death of the terrorist leader, Zarqawi. And that's what this quick trip to Baghdad was all about.

And his message there, and today, was that it is really time to empower this Iraqi government. Prime Minister Maliki, he said he sized them up face to face. He sees him as a very credible leader and that it's now in the hands of the Iraqis; that the U.S. will do everything they can to assist them, but success really is in the hands of this new government.

BRAND: And he was also asked about declining public support in this country for the war. Here's how he addressed that question.

President BUSH: And I understand how tough it is for the American people to reconcile death on their TV screens with the president saying, we're making incremental progress toward an important goal. What I hope they understand is how important it is we succeed in Iraq.

BRAND: Don, did the president say anything about a benchmark, about when the right time would be to leave Iraq?

GONYEA: No, but he has shifted his language on this a little bit over the last couple of days. He is saying that he cannot wait for violence to cease. He says that's just not realistic; and also it would really empower the terrorists too much.

He said that he does want to draw down troops. It will be based on conditions underground. But he came up with a shorthand of something he's said so many times. He always says when the Iraqi soldiers and military are ready to stand up and defend themselves then the U.S. will stand down. Today, the president said, my policy is stand up, stand down.

BRAND: And he also addressed the need to deal with Iraq's oil production. Here's what he said.

President BUSH: 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.

BRAND: Don, what was the president getting at there?

GONYEA: It's interesting. When I heard that, I thought that he has to be careful that he's not lecturing this sovereign government. I think he, perhaps, sensed that it sounded like that, as well. Later on, he said that his position is to be an advisor to this sovereign nation and that they will make these decisions, that he will offer them advice, and that the U.S. will be there to support them.

BRAND: And it wasn't all about Iraq. There was a question about the special prosecutor deciding not to indict the president's key aide, Karl Rove. What did he say about that?

GONYEA: The president said he took a sigh of relief, as did others at the White House, when they found out that Karl Rove would not face criminal charges. He said it's time to move forward.

We do know that Karl Rove leaked the name of Valerie Plame to reporters. The president would not talk about that, would not say if that's an okay thing that Rove did. He's simply saying he trusts Karl Rove and that he's an integral part of his team.

BRAND: All right. Thank you, Don.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

BRAND: NPR White House Correspondent Don Gonyea.

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