Foreign-Policy Questions Divert Bush Speech President Bush tried to devote his news conference at the White House on Wednesday to domestic issues, but he soon found that reporters had foreign-policy questions on their minds — many focusing on Iraq or Iran.
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Foreign-Policy Questions Divert Bush Speech

Hear NPR's David Greene

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

It's not easy being President Bush these days, even White House news conferences are hard to control. The president tried to lecture reporters today on the failures of Democrats in Congress, only to have the reporters grill him about relations with China, Turkey, Russia and Iran, and about torture.

NPR's David Greene reports.

DAVID GREENE: The president opened by pointing out that Democrats have been in charge of Congress for nine months.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Little time left in the year and Congress has little to show for all the time that has gone by.

GREENE: And after several minutes of similar remarks, he opened the floor.

Pres. BUSH: And now, I look forward to taking some of your questions, believe it or not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: The questions went quickly to other topics, like why Mr. Bush decided to attend a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony today honoring the Dalai Lama. China's government sees Tibet's spiritual leader as a threat to its sovereignty and Beijing was angry that Mr. Bush went to the event.

Pres. BUSH: I like going to the Gold Medal ceremonies. I think it's a good thing for the president to do, to recognize those who the Congress has honored.

GREENE: The president also said he saw a principle at stake.

Pres. BUSH: I have consistently told the Chinese that religious freedom is in their nation's interest.

GREENE: But on another matter of principle, Mr. Bush had a different take. He said Congress should not pass a resolution labeling Turkey's killing of Armenians during World War I as genocide. That debate in Washington has angered Turkey and Mr. Bush said it's not worth provoking an important U.S. ally.

At one point, the president called on Richard Wolffe from Newsweek magazine. There've long been questions about whether U.S. interrogators torture terrorism suspects. Wolffe kept his question brief.

Mr. RICHARD WOLFFE (Reporter, Newsweek): Thank you, sir. A simple question.

Pres. BUSH: Yes.

Mr. WOLFFE: What's your definition of…

Pres. BUSH: Yes. It might require a simple answer.

Mr. WOLFFE: What's your definition of the word torture?

Pres. BUSH: Of what?

Mr. WOLFFE: The word torture. What's your definition?

Pres. BUSH: It is - that's defined in U.S. law, and we don't torture.

Mr. WOLFFE: Can you give me your version of it, sir?

Pres. BUSH: Yeah. Whatever the law says.

GREENE: There were also a lot of questions today about Russian President Vladimir Putin, who visited Iran this week despite U.S. efforts to isolate that country. Mr. Bush said he wasn't bothered by photos of Putin and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad together and smiling.

Pres. BUSH: Generally, leaders don't like to be photographed scowling at each other or, you know, making bad gestures at each other. So I'm not surprised that there is, you know, a nice picture of them walking along. You know, I try to make sure that when I'm with foreign leaders, there's a pretty picture of the two of us walking down, you know, the colonnades or something like that, to send a good message.

GREENE: One message, though, did seem to concern the president. Putin said he's not so sure Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb. Mr. Bush said he's eager to get Putin on the phone because he sees things differently.

Pres. BUSH: We got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.

GREENE: From Russia, there have been reports that Putin might hold onto power after his second term as president is over, perhaps by becoming prime minister. Mr. Bush said he's not in the loop about that.

Pres. BUSH: I have no idea what he's going to do. I asked him, when I saw him in Australia, I tried to, you know, get it out of him, who's going to be his successor, what he intends to do, and he was wily. He wouldn't tip his hand.

GREENE: As for the idea of holding power longer than a constitution allows, Mr. Bush joked that he's thought of doing that himself, but will instead return to Texas. Until then, however, he can still wheel the veto pen.

Pres. BUSH: That's one way to ensure that I am relevant. That's one way to ensure that I am in the process and I intend to use the veto.

GREENE: And Congress has yet to override a veto by President Bush.

David Greene, NPR News, the White House.

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