LYNN NEARY, host:
President Bush says there should be serious repercussions following North Korea's announcement earlier this week that it had tested a nuclear device. The president is speaking at this hour at a Rose Garden news conference. He says the United States remains committed to diplomacy but reserves all options.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Our goals remain clear: peace and security in northeast Asia and nuclear-free Korean peninsula. We will take the necessary actions to achieve these goals. We will work with the United Nations. We'll support our allies in the region, and together we will ensure that North Korea understands the consequences if it continues down its current path.
NEARY: NPR's Mara Liasson has been listening to the president. She joins me now. Mara, did you hear anything new in the president's remarks today with regard to North Korea?
LIASSON: No, we didn't hear anything new, but hear him stress over and over again that he is using a diplomatic approach to this. He's working multilaterally. This has become an issue immediately in the mid-term elections, with Democrats saying that his policy has been a failure since in May of 2003 he said he would not tolerate a nuclear North Korea.
Now we know that we have a nuclear North Korea. And the president said that the approach of the previous administration - the Clinton administration, which was bilateral talks with North Korea which produced an agreement that then North Korea violated - didn't work. Now he's trying a different method, which is multilateral talks, which is precisely the approach that he says his political opponents always tell him to try. Don't go it alone. Work with our allies. So that's what he says he's doing.
He says he's working with the allies to come up with some kind of consequences from North Korea. We don't know exactly what those are going to be yet.
NEARY: Of course, the president also addressed his policy in Iraq, continuing to defend his policy despite questions raised by some senior Republicans.
LIASSON: Yes. John Warner - who is a very loyal Republican senator, chairman of the Armed Services Committee - went to Iraq. He came back saying it looked like it was going sideways. The violence there is increasing - not only violence from terrorists, but sectarian violence. Then James Baker, who was one of the senior Bush family advisors - and also, obviously top level official in the president's father's administration - is the head of something called the Iraq Study Group. He said recently that changes in strategy might be needed. Now the president was asked about this today, and he said, well, we're constantly changing tactics to achieve a strategic goal, which is help the Iraq democracy succeed. If the plan isn't working, we're going to adjust.
If the generals come to me and say we need more troops, he's going to support them. I think what James Baker was hinting at was something much deeper than that when he talks about maybe a change in strategy is needed. Of course, James Baker is not going to be producing any recommendations until after the election.
NEARY: All right. And one other issue we should discuss: the president did touch on the economy, and that is as elections are approaching.
LIASSON: Yes, and the president started this press conference with an announcement that he had achieved his goal of reducing the budget deficit. As we heard earlier in the program from David Wessel, the reason the deficit has gone down is because tax receipts are up. And mostly, that's because corporate profits have been soaring - not necessarily because of the tax cuts which were individual income tax cuts, not corporate tax cuts.
But the president said that two important issues in this election campaign where Republicans are facing a very, very difficult job of hanging on to the House and Senate are going to be the economy. And he mentioned gas prices going down, and also taxes. And he again tried to point out - make the contrast with Democrats they want to raise your taxes, and we want to make the tax cuts permanent.
He came back to the economy. He said this before in other appearances at the White House that he thinks the economy is going to be an important issue in the campaign.
NEARY: Thanks so much. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks for joining us today. And you are listening to NPR News.
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