CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush, basking in the success of the war in Iraq and a long getaway at his beloved central Texas ranch, returns to Washington ready to promote his embattled tax cut plan and other domestic priorities.
On Sunday, speaking to reporters after attending Easter services at Fort Hood, an Army post a short helicopter ride from the Prairie Chapel Ranch, Bush looked ahead to a non-war agenda.
"I will continue doing what I have been doing ... working on our economy and working to modernize the Medicare system," he said.
"Then I will continue to work to make the world a more peaceful place," he added, without offering specifics. "The United States is a powerful country, and one of the things we ought to do is use our power to make the world more peaceful and more free."
The president offered optimistic outlooks for a wide range of thorny foreign policy matters facing his administration — from anti-U.S. demonstrations in postwar Iraq, concerns that Syria is helping fugitive former senior Iraqi officials and a dangerous continuing nuclear standoff with North Korea.
"It's a glorious day," Bush declared on Christianity's highest holiday.
He had remained out of sight since Wednesday, when he arrived here from a quick stop in St. Louis to talk about the Iraq war and push his proposed tax cuts. He was joined in celebrating Easter by his wife, parents, twin daughters and mother-in-law.
Other family members, a few unidentified friends and national security adviser and confidant Condoleezza Rice were also among those welcomed to the ranch, where the president spent his weekend as he usually does here: exercising, chopping cedar, doing "home projects, a little fishing."
"Nothing better than fishing with your dad, and Barney," his dog, he said.
At Fort Hood, which sent many of its troops to Iraq, Bush met briefly with two former prisoners of war rescued in Iraq a week earlier.
"I am particularly grateful that these two men were with us today. I thank God for their lives," he said outside the chapel, flanked by Chief Warrant Officers David S. Williams and Ronald D. Young Jr., helicopter pilots who had returned to the base only hours earlier from Germany.
In remarks on major foreign policy concerns, Bush said:
_Syria seems to be heeding American demands for cooperation against Saddam Hussein's defunct regime in neighboring Iraq. Lowering administration rhetoric that had led to speculation that Syria could become the next U.S. military target, he said: "There's some positive signs. They're getting the message that they should not harbor Baath Party officials, high-ranking Iraqi officials."
_Saddam, if still alive, should "not pop his head up" and said anti-U.S. demonstrations led by religious leaders in Iraq do not worry him. "They couldn't express their opinions before we came. Now they can," Bush said. "I've always said democracy is going to be hard."
_Diplomatic pressure has a "good chance" of succeeding in persuading North Korea to end its nuclear weapons-development programs during upcoming multinational talks. China, Japan and South Korea have joined the United States in opposition, and the president cited that unanimity of purpose — if not of strategy — as reason for optimism.
Bush's late-afternoon return to Washington on Monday leaves his public schedule clear for the rest of the day and the morning's annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn without its traditional presidential host.
Instead, Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, was tapped to greet about 12,000 people — all members of military families due to security concerns — invited to the event.
Later this week, Bush is due to leave Washington again — this time for Ohio, according to a senior Republican official there. It's part of a White House plan to give the president a heavier travel schedule so he can refocus on domestic priorities and visit politically strategic states in advance of the 2004 elections.