Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
President Bush speaks during a press conference in the East Room of the White House. The president discussed North Korea, the House debate on Iraq policy, and claims about Iran's role in Iraq during the nearly hour-long event.
President Bush speaks during a press conference in the East Room of the White House. The president discussed North Korea, the House debate on Iraq policy, and claims about Iran's role in Iraq during the nearly hour-long event. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
President Bush on Wednesday declared that the multi-party talks that led to an agreement designed to end North Korea's nuclear program represented "good progress" and a "step in the right direction," but he acknowledged there was more to be done.
In a morning news conference that lasted nearly an hour, Mr. Bush also dealt with questions regarding his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the ongoing debate in the House over the conduct of the war in Iraq, and the administration's claim that Iran is responsible for weapons used in Iraq by Shiite groups to kill U.S. troops.
There has been an ongoing debate within the administration regarding the role of the Iranian government in Iraq, and the growing number of roadside bombs that are killing Americans at a rapid rate. U.S. intelligence has linked the bombs to the Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The conclusion by the White House is that the Quds Force is getting its marching orders from the leaders in Tehran, but Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said he was not ready to make that connection.
Mr. Bush said Wednesday that whether or not it can be proven that the Iranian government was directly involved, the fact remains that the weapons are in Iraq and are killing Americans, and that he, the president, is "going to do something about it." A more pointed question, whether the administration was getting the same kind of faulty intelligence about Iran that it got during the "weapons of mass destruction" debate in Iraq – and whether the intelligence was being manipulated as a "pretext to war" — was also dismissed by the president as missing the point.
"What's worse," Mr. Bush asked, "them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and it happening?"
Asked about the fact that many of America's allies are involved in major trade deals with Iran, the president shrugged and said, "Money trumps peace sometimes." But he said he still expected allies to stand together in resisting Iran's ambitions as a nuclear power.
Regarding the debate in the House this week over a Democratic non-binding resolution that disapproves of the president's decision to send 21,000 more troops to Iraq, Mr. Bush said it was his "hope" that it didn't lead to a binding vote that would cut funding for the troops. The president mentioned the seeming contradiction of an overwhelming Senate vote to confirm Gen. David Patraeus, the new chief commander of U.S. forces in the region, and the anticipated vote to disapprove of the new war policy ... "before it has a chance to work," he added.
Mr. Bush said he recently spoke to Patraeus, who told him that the new war plan is "beginning to take shape" – though, as he has done before, the president said securing Baghdad "will take time." He also refused to be drawn into a discussion as to whether Friday's antiwar policy vote in the House "sends a message to" or "emboldens" the enemy.
But President Bush did say that pulling back would lead to "disastrous consequences:" "If we failed there, the enemy will follow us here." It was the same argument that House Minority Leader John Boehner made Tuesday on the House floor during the Iraq resolution debate.
Back to North Korea, Mr. Bush said he "strongly disagrees" with John Bolton, his former acting U.N. ambassador, who criticized the recently announced deal to end Pyongyang's nuclear program as weak. Bolton's assessment was "flat wrong," the president said, though he acknowledged that all sides must make sure to "follow through" with making it stick.
In other news coming out of the news conference:
- The president acknowledged that he and Russian President Putin have a "complicated relationship." But despite Putin's recent and growing criticism of America's role in the world, Mr. Bush said the two have worked together on a number of key issues, such as North Korea and nuclear proliferation.
- Mr. Bush was asked, as he has been in the past, whether he considers the situation in Iraq to be a "civil war." He said it was hard to give an assessment, as he has spoken to some who feel it is and others who don't.
- He was questioned about troop morale and whether it was declining, given the fact that some troops in Iraq are going through second, third and even fourth tours of duty. The President said it was his understanding that troop morale was good but that a lot of concern was coming from loved ones back in the United States. He said more than once that he appreciates the sacrifice that is being made.
- The president completely refused to address a question about the trial of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Mr. Bush would not speak to a question about pardoning Libby in the event the former aide is convicted.
- A question about how Iraq might play in the 2008 presidential election, or whether Mr. Bush will brief the various presidential candidates about what's going on there, elicited a response that the President would "resist the temptation to be pundit-in-chief" – though that's not what the questioner asked.
- And asked about where he and the Democrats might find common ground in the final two years of his term, Mr. Bush talked about balancing the federal budget, overhauling national policy on immigration, energy policy and health care, and renewing the "No Child Left Behind" program.