NASHVILLE, Tenn. – President Bush said Wednesday the vision of a Palestinian state cannot be realized if a Hamas-led government refuses to renounce its desire to destroy Israel. He also said Iran can have nuclear power but not a nuclear weapon.
Bush said it was too early to tell what path Hamas would choose. "The conditions for peace and the conditions for a settlement will be up to Hamas to make the right decisions," Bush said in an interview with The Associated Press.
It was the president's first interview after his State of the Union address, and Bush offered an even more ambitious hope for reducing America's appetite for Mideast oil than he had on Tuesday night.
"I believe in a relatively quick period of time, within my lifetime, we'll be able to reduce if not end dependence on Middle Eastern oil by this new technology" of converting corn, wood, grasses and other products into ethanol, he said. In his address Tuesday, Bush set a goal of reducing the nation's Mideast oil imports by 75 percent by 2025.
"America's addiction to oil is bad for this country," the president told AP on Air Force One as he flew to Nashville for a speech. "In order to remain competitive we've got to use technology to diversify away from dependence on oil."
"I am told we are close to significant breakthroughs when it comes to the production of ethanol ... and that within six years the development of technology will be able to produce energy on a competitive basis," he said.
Bush, a onetime Texas oilman, offered no complaint about the huge profits of energy giant Exxon, which reported record quarterly profits of more than $10 billion.
"There is a market place in American society," the president said. Asked if oil companies should give Americans a break on prices, he said, "Well, I think that basically the price is determined by the market place and that's the way it should be."
"There's also a responsibility for energy companies to continue to invest and improve the ways that the American people can get energy," he said. "I would very much hope that Exxon would participate in the development of a pipeline out of Alaska, for example, in order to make sure there's more natural gas available for families and small business owners so the economy will grow."
Bush was asked about Iran in view of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's vow to resist the pressure of "bully countries" as European nations circulated a draft resolution urging that Tehran be brought before the U.N. Security Council for its nuclear activities.
"We cannot afford to have Iran with a nuclear weapon," Bush said. "We want them to have nuclear power but under the conditions that we describe." The United States supports a plan in which Russia would handle the reprocessing of spent fuel from Iran.
But Bush held out little hope of avoiding a showdown with Tehran.
"It looks like to me the process is headed toward the (U.N.) Security Council, and that if the Iranians would like to avoid that, they ought to work in good faith to get rid of their nuclear weapon ambitions," the president said.
Bush also called Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss Iran and thanked him for Russia's reprocessing plan for Tehran.
Bush was the first U.S. president to espouse a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel. Those prospects have dimmed with the triumph of Hamas in Palestinian parliamentary elections last week.
"I made the position of this government very clear," Bush said. "Hamas must renounce its desire to destroy Israel, it must recognize Israel's right to exist and it must get rid of the armed wing of its party," he said.
"In order for there to be democracy and in order for there to be two states living side by side with peace, you can't have the party of one state intending to destroy the other state," he said.
"And secondly, in order to participate in a democratic society, you can't have an armed wing available to enforce something a party decides to do," Bush added.
As for Hamas' intentions, he said, "I think it's too early to tell ... I'd like to see the will of the people in place."
The president also appeared untroubled by the outbursts and chaos surrounding the trial of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who is boycotting his trial in Baghdad.
"Saddam Hussein was the person who made a mockery of justice," Bush said. "He never gave his victims any chance for trial. This fledgling democracy is working through the issues of its Justice Department."
"Hopefully the trial will resume and be conducted in a fair" way, the president said. "It certainly stands in a stark contrast to how Saddam treated his people."
As for any qualms about the trial, Bush said, "My focus is on the fact that there is actually a trial."
"I'd like to see the trial move forward and I'd to see there be the rule of law prevail. That's what democracies do. They give people a fair trial," he said.