Bush Strikes Reassuring Tone in First Prime-Time News Conference

On the same day the FBI issued a new warning that terrorists may strike America again in the next several days, President Bush gave his report to America on the status of the war on terrorism.

Trying to calm concerns, the president said the FBI warning was a "blanket alert" in recognition of a general threat. He said that if the government had received a specific threat, it would have warned the targets of that threat.

The president urged Americans to continue going about their lives, conducting business and flying on airplanes.

"I also want to encourage them by telling them that our government is on full alert and that the alert put out today by the Justice Department was just such an action," the president said in his first prime-time news conference Thursday night.

Bush said he doesn't know whether terrorist leader Usama bin Laden is dead or alive, but he wants him brought to justice. He said he was sure that after five days of airstrikes in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda network members are on the run.

"They think they might find safe haven? Not if we think they're there," he said.

The president's press conference was an address to an international audience as much as to the nation.

He made positive comments about the Arab world and a recent vote by the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference to condemn the attack on the United States. He mentioned humanitarian relief and urged the children of America to mail a dollar each to the White House for an Afghan children's relief fund, and told Syria that it would be given an opportunity to become a member of the world community if it helps fight terror.

"I'm a performance-oriented person. I believe in results. And if you want to join the coalition against terror, we'll welcome you in," he said.

The president also walked a fine line when he said Israel has no greater friend than the United States but applauded Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Bush said he applauds Arafat for controlling the radical elements among his followers and hopes he will continue to keep a lid on violence.

He also threw out a bone to Arafat, with whom he has never met.

"I believe there ought to be a Palestinian state, the boundaries of which will be negotiated by the parties so long as the Palestinian state recognizes the right of Israel to exist, and will treat Israel with respect, and will be peaceful on her borders," he said.

The president issued some warnings as well. He gave the example of the Gulf War as a caution to the ruling Taliban regime in Afghanistan, but said it could have a second chance at saving itself if it turns over bin Laden.

"If you cough him up and his people today, we'll reconsider what we're doing to your country," he said.

Otherwise, Bush suggested that once U.S. military involvement is complete and the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan are routed, the United Nations could take on the role of creating a stable, new government. It was the first mention of the United Nations since the campaign began and a possible source of relief for nations who feared the United States would replace the Taliban with some type of puppet government.

The president also said he looked forward to meeting up with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a trip to Shanghai, China, next week. It was one of the president's few comments not directly related to the war on terror, though the president said that he is certain he can convince Putin of the need for a missile defense shield and the abolition of the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty.

"I'm going to ask my friend to envision a world in which a terrorist thug and/or a host nation might have the ability to develop — to deliver a weapon of mass destruction via a — via rocket. And wouldn't it be in our nations' advantage to be able to shoot it down? At the very least, it should be in our nations' advantage to determine whether we can shoot it down," he said.

Bush's 45-minute Q&A came precisely one month to the day after terrorist attacks in New York and Washington murdered thousands, damaged the nation's economy and shattered its complacency. At a memorial service at the Pentagon Thursday, he said the hijackers had "died in vain" and their co-conspirators "will be isolated, surrounded, cornered until there is no place to run or hide or rest."

In the month since the devastating attacks, the president has labored to construct a foundation for an international war on terrorism, moving to choke off the funding essential for terrorists to carry out their strikes, lining up support from other nations, creating a new Office of Homeland Security, and unleashing the nation's military.

The nation appears to be recovering from the attacks, which claimed the lives of more than 5,000 people, and rocked the country's economic foundation, already suffering from a downturn.

Since the attacks, the stock market has regained much of the ground it lost and Congress is nearly back to its usual partisan bickering.

Yet reminders of the attacks and the continuing threats were everywhere. An anthrax scare in Florida brought in federal investigators, New York's Office of Emergency Management continues to revise the number of missing and Vice President Dick Cheney has not been seen in public for weeks.

Asked whether Americans needed to make sacrifices for a long-term war against terrorism, Bush said he thought Americans had sacrificed enough.

"I think there's a certain sacrifice when you lose a piece of your soul," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.