Bush: Iraq Withdrawal Would Send Wrong Message

In a news conference on Monday, President Bush reiterated his vow to support the fledgling Iraqi democracy and said withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq prematurely would send a message of defeat to other Mideast nations.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, Saddam Hussein begins his second trial. This time he's accused of orchestrating a genocide against Iraqi Kurds.

That was one reason given by President Bush to justify the war three years ago. He talked about Iraq and other issues at a news conference this morning. The president said there's an urgent need to get an international peacekeeping force into southern Lebanon.

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

BRAND: NPR's David Greene was at that news conference. He joins me now from the White House. And David, what more did we hear from the president on this subject?

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Well, he spoke about the subject straight off the bat before taking any questions. He said he wants international troops in Lebanon as soon as possible to enforce the resolution.

He made clear the U.S. isn't going to be sending ground troops, though, for that force. But he said they'll be helping in lots of other ways: logistics, intelligence.

And then he went through a list of how the U.S. is helping in other ways. He said half the humanitarian relief promised to Lebanon has been delivered and the U.S. is even helping to clean up an oil spill on the Lebanese coast.

Of course the lingering question is whether any of this is going to address the root causes of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, which is what he said the goal was from the beginning.

BRAND: Well, one of them being disarming Hezbollah. What did he say about that?

GREENE: Absolutely. And he was asked about that very directly. Are you still going to demand that Hezbollah be disarmed? And let's play some tape of how he answered that.

President BUSH: 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.

GREENE: You heard him say hopefully. And that was pretty striking. He went on to say that if Hezbollah is not disarmed, the situation might remain the status quo along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

And of course the reason Mr. Bush had said all along that he was standing by and allowing Israel's attacks on Lebanon and on Hezbollah to continue was because he insisted he wanted the threat from Hezbollah taken out. And today he seemed to be suggesting that hasn't happened yet and seemed to be leaving the open question whether it will.

BRAND: Mm-hmm. And let's turn to Iraq for a moment. Many experts there saying there is now a civil war in that country. Did the president say anything about that?

GREENE: He did. He was asked about that. And he gave one of those squishy answers. There's been all this talk about civil war, he said, and he's concerned about it. I mean, you tell me what that means.

But he seemed to want to show that people out there are talking about civil war. He knows that possibility exists while avoiding all the headlines that would come out of it: President Bush declares a civil war is raging in Iraq.

He spoke a long time about staying the course, as we always hear from him. And he insisted that the alternative, having Saddam Hussein still in power, would be worse than the situation now.

He also said at one point that the history of the Middle East has not been written yet. So he seemed to be biding some time and acknowledging that Americans are concerned about the war.

And he made a quick turn to politics He was eager to talk about that. He said that he wasn't questioning the patriotism of his critics in the Democratic Party, but he framed their view as wanting to get out of Iraq, and he said that that would be very dangerous if it was a policy they put in place.

BRAND: Well, let's talk about domestic politics for a minute, and the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is approaching. Was the president asked about that, about what his administration has done in the last year?

GREENE: He was. He said his administration has done a lot. But he shifted a lot of the responsibility to local and state governments on the Gulf Coast. He said there's federal money that's waiting there. He said the big problem is housing, but he said they have to get the money to the people. He also said this is a huge storm and it's going to take a long time to rebuild.

BRAND: NPR White House correspondent David Greene. Thank you, David.

GREENE: My pleasure, Madeleine.

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Bush: Iraq War 'Straining the Psyche' of Americans

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush on Monday conceded that the war in Iraq, with daily bombings and U.S. casualties now standing at more than 2,600, was "straining the psyche of our country."

"Sometimes I'm frustrated. Rarely surprised. Wars are not a time of joy," the president said. "These are challenging times, and difficult times."

At a White House news conference, President Bush conceded that the war had become a major issue in this year's midterm congressional elections. He also called for quick deployment of an international force to help uphold the fragile cease-fire in Lebanon.

"The need is urgent," the president said.

The president opened his news conference — his first full-scale question-and-answer session since July 7 in Chicago — with a statement about humanitarian aid and an international peacekeeping force for southern Lebanon after 34 days of fighting.

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

He said the international force would help keep the militant Hezbollah organization from acting as a "state within a state."

"The United States will do our part," Bush said. While the U.S. does not plan to contribute troops, it will provide logistical support, command-and-control assistance and intelligence.

He said it was "the most effective contribution we can make at this time."

Bush also said his administration was pledging an additional $230 million to help the Lebanese rebuild their homes and return to their towns and communities.

Turning to Iraq, Bush said that if the government there fails, it could turn the country into a "safe haven for terrorists and extremists" and give the insurgents revenues from oil sales.

"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," Bush said.

On Iran, Bush said the United States is getting some inkling of Tehran's response to international calls for it to abandon its nuclear ambitions. A U.N. Security Council resolution passed last month called on Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment by Aug. 31 or face the threat of economic and diplomatic sanctions.

"We are beginning to get some indication, but we'll wait until they have a formal response," Bush said. "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 Iran."

Iran said Sunday that it will offer a "multifaceted response" Tuesday to a Western package of incentives aimed at persuading Tehran to rein in its nuclear program, but insisted it won't suspend uranium enrichment altogether.

Bush said there must be "more than one voice speaking clearly to the Iranians."

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Monday that Tehran will continue to pursue nuclear technology, despite the U.N. Security Council deadline.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has made its own decision and in the nuclear case, God willing, with patience and power, will continue its path," Khamenei was quoted as saying by state television.

Bush also said he was troubled that so many U.S. House and Senate candidates were calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

"There are a lot of good decent people saying 'Get out now. Vote for me, I'll do everything I can to cut off money...' It's a big mistake. It would be wrong, in my judgment, to leave before the mission is completed in Iraq."

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

The war was a major issue in the Aug. 8 defeat of war supporter Sen. Joe Lieberman in Connecticut's Democratic primary. He was defeated by newcomer Ned Lamont, who has called for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops.

"I'm going to stay out of Connecticut," Bush said.

When a reporter reminded him that he was born in Connecticut, Bush grinned and said, "Shhhhhh."

Bush also:

- Said he talked Monday morning with Chinese President Hu Jintao about trying to revive six-party negotiations aimed getting North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions.

- Bemoaned high gasoline prices, calling them a tax taking money out of Americans' pockets. He said that's all the more reason to diversify away from foreign oil and fossil fuels in general.

-Said the federal government has committed $110 billion to Katrina relief nearly a year after the huge storm hit the Gulf Coast area, and that the money was taking longer to get to those who deserved it in Louisiana than in Mississippi.

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