WASHINGTON – President Bush said Tuesday that the global fight against terrorism is stronger than ever, and blamed new attacks in Iraq on members of Saddam Hussein's old regime and "foreign terrorists"
In a news conference held in the White House Rose Garden (search), Bush said he will not let terrorists undermine efforts coalition troops have made in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"After decades of oppression and brutality in Iraq and Afghanistan (search), reconstruction is difficult and freedom still has its enemies in both of those countries," Bush said. "Desperate attacks on innocent civilians will not intimidate us or the brave Iraqis and Afghans who are joining in their own defense and who are moving toward self-government."
In the hastily-called but wide-ranging press conference, the president gave a brief opening statement that touched on a variety of issues -- supplemental funding for Iraq, the economy, a comprehensive energy bill, Medicare reform, judicial nominees and the wildfires (search) in California.
"I express my deep concerns and sympathies for those whose lives have been hurt badly by these fires. The federal government is working closely with the state government to provide the resources necessary to help the brave firefighters do their duty," Bush said.
As usual, Iraq dominated the question-and-answer session. Bush refused to say how long he will let U.S. troops remain there, but stressed on several occasions that he wants Iraqis to take over their own security.
"I think the people of Iraq appreciate what is taking place inside the country, and what we want to do is implement the strategy that encourages" Iraqi to take control of security, he said.
Bush said he did not know for sure who was responsible for recent attacks on targets in Baghdad, including a missile attack on the Al Rashid hotel and a car bomb on an International Red Cross building, but he said he thought he had a good idea.
"We're trying to determine the nature of who these people were, but I would assume that they're either -- or and probably both -- Baathists [those loyal to Saddam] and foreign terrorists," he said. "The foreign terrorists are trying to create conditions of fear and retreat because they fear a free and peaceful state."
Bush said he hoped the attacks would not cause other countries to hesitate about whether to contribute troops to Iraq's security as the country gets back on its feet.
Asked whether nations considered sponsors of terrorism -- namely Iran and Syria -- are not being held accountable, Bush said they have been warned not to let terrorists cross into Iraq from their borders.
"We're working closely with those countries to let them know that we expect them to enforce borders, prevent people from coming across borders," he said. "We are mindful of the fact that some might want to come into Iraq to attack and create conditions of fear and chaos ... and that is why it is important that we step up training for Iraqis -- border patrol agents so they can enforce their own borders."
In his opening statement, Bush urged Congress to finish up the $87 billion Iraq supplemental spending bill to pay for ongoing military operations and reconstruction costs. Both chambers of Congress have passed versions of the bill, and are now negotiating differences in the bills.
Bush said that he felt the sum, criticized by many Democrats as well as some Republicans as excessive while the United States is trying to climb out from under a deep budget deficit, was a reasonable debt for the U.S. to incur.
"First of all, it's a one-time expenditure, as you know,"Bush said, adding that the money will help ensure that Iraq is peaceful, free and not a threat to "the future security of America."
"It's an historic opportunity. And I will continue to make that case to the American people. It's a chance to secure -- have a more secure future for our children. It's essential we get it right," he said.
While the president was adamant about continuing to leave the U.S. military in place to fight terrorists in Iraq, he said he prefers a different approach to combating terrorists elsewhere. In the Middle East, where Palestinian terrorists have been conducting an intifada or "holy war" on Israeli civilians for the past three years, Bush said he is opting for a more diplomatic approach, including dealing with Palestinian leaders who seek to end terrorism.
Responding to a question about his uneven treatment of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who by the president's definition would be a terrorist, Bush said Arafat would not be removed in the same manner as Saddam Hussein.
"Not every action requires military action. As you notice, for example, in North Korea, we've chosen to put together a multinational strategy to deal with Mr. Kim Jong Il," Bush said. "As a matter of fact, military action is the very last resort for us ... this nation is very reluctant to use military force."
Bush repeated that he supports a two-state solution in the region and would like to help the Palestinians develop an economy. But he said he understands that Israel is building a fence around Gaza for its own security, not as a land grab.
In the case of intelligence failures prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush said his administration was offering as much assistance as it could, but it also had to be mindful of the sensitivity of the information being sought. The Sept. 11 commission, led by former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton, has complained that it may seek subpoenas to force the White House to give up information.
"It is important for me to protect national security. You're talking about the presidential daily brief, Bush said. "Now having said that, we want to work with Chairman Kean and Vice Chairman Hamilton, and I believe we can reach a proper accord to protect the integrity of the daily brief process and at the same time allow them a chance to take a look and see what was in the certain daily briefs that they would like to see."
Bush added that an investigation conducted by the Justice Department is going forward into whether a White House aide leaked the name of a CIA employee in retaliation for criticisms made by her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, of the administration's intelligence justifying war in Iraq. Bush said his opposition to leaks is well-known, and he would like to find out who leaked Valerie Plame's name, but the investigation needs to be completed by Justice Department officials.
On a variety of domestic issues, Bush urged Congress to wrap up a Medicare package and energy bill that have been in the works for years. He expressed satisfaction that the economy is showing signs of resilience, though he said creating jobs is still his first priority.
The president said he agreed with his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, who ordered a feeding tube restored to a Florida woman whose husband had wanted to starve her to death after more than a decade of her being in a persistent vegetative state. He also said that he would sign legislation headed to his desk that would ban partial birth abortions. But the president added that he doesn't think America is ready for an all-out ban on abortion.
"I don't think the culture has changed to the extent that the American people or the Congress would totally ban abortions," the president said.