Published February 17, 2005
| Associated Press
WASHINGTON – President Bush on Thursday said Syria (search) is "out of step" with other nations in the Middle East and that the United States will work with other countries to pressure Damascus to remove its troops from Lebanon.
Bush also pledged to support Israel (search) if its security were threatened by Iran.
Bush said he did not know if Syria was involved in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri (search).
"I can't tell you that," Bush said. "I don't know that. I'm going to withhold judgment until we know what the facts are."
Bush said he would consult with allies about Syria when he visits Europe next week, and said the United States supports an international investigation of Hariri's assassination.
The United States has withdrawn its ambassador to Syria, Margaret Scobey (search), and that "indicates that the relationship is not moving forward," the president said. He said Syria was "out of step with the progress being made in the greater Middle East."
The United States expects Syria to find and turn over former supporters of Saddam Hussein's (search) regime and send them back to Iraq and stop supporting terrorism, Bush said. He said Syria also must comply with U.N. resolutions calling for it to withdraw its 15,000 troops from Lebanon.
Bush spoke at a news conference where he announced that John Negroponte (search), the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, will be the nation's first director of national intelligence, the powerful overseer of all 15 intelligence agencies.
Looking ahead to his European trip, Bush said he knows that some allies think that his only concern is national security, which he acknowledged is at the top of his agenda. Yet, he said, "We also care about hunger and disease. ... We care about the climate."
Many allies are upset with the United States for refusing to approve the Kyoto climate treaty (search).
"They thought the treaty made sense," Bush said. "I didn't." He noted that the Senate had voted 95-0 against the treaty. Yet, Bush said there were other ways to deal with the problem of global warming and that he would talk with allies about new technologies to deal with the issue.
Bush declined to offer his full endorsement of Europe's negotiations to get Iran to halt its suspected nuclear weapons program. He said the United States and Europe share the goal that Iran must not develop a nuclear weapon. Still, he left it up in the air whether he fully supports Europe's approach.
"I look forward to ... discussing strategies, ways forward with the Europeans to make sure we continue to speak with one voice, and that is Iran should not have a nuclear weapon and how to work together to make sure they don't," Bush said.
Asked if was concerned that Israel might attack Iran to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon, Bush said Israel is concerned about Iran's intentions.
"But clearly, if I was the leader of Israel and I'd listened to some of the statements by the Iranian ayatollahs that regarded the security of my country, I'd be concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon as well," Bush said.
He said Israel "is our ally and in that we've made a very strong commitment to support Israel, we will support Israel if her security is threatened."
But with three international hotspots — Syria, Iran and North Korea (search) — topping his agenda lately, Bush repeatedly chose the language of diplomacy over threats.
Bush dodged repeated offers to name potential punishments to Syria. "The idea is to continue to work with the world to remind Syria it's not in their interest to be isolated," he said.
Explaining why Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons doesn't yet put it in danger of a U.S. attack, Bush said: "The Iranian issue hasn't even gotten to the Security Council (search) yet. And so there's more diplomacy, in my judgment, to be done."
And on North Korea, which now says it possesses nuclear weapons, Bush emphasized a multi-party effort with regional allies to turn Pyongyang back from those pursuits. "Now is the time for us to work with friends and allies who have agreed to be part of the process to determine what we're jointly going to do about it," he said.
Turning to his primary domestic priority, Bush continued to press Congress to tackle the long-term solvency of Social Security (search) and approve his idea to let younger workers invest part of their payroll taxes in personal retirement accounts.
"This idea is going nowhere if Congress does not believe there is a problem," Bush said. "Why should someone take the hard path if they don't think there is a problem."
On Wednesday, Federal Reserve (search) Chairman Alan Greenspan said he favored private investment accounts, but he said he was concerned about the expense of transition costs, which the administration has estimated at $754 billion over the next 10 years. Critics contend the true costs would be in the trillions.
"He (Greenspan) understands that we have about $11 trillion of debt owed to future generations — that we'd better do something about it," Bush said.