WHEELING, W.Va – President Bush said Wednesday he feels Iraqi political figures need to urgently get a representative government together that can unify a nation now embroiled in civil strife.
"It's time," Bush said. "It's time to get a government in place."
Speaking for the third time in as many days about Iraq and the war against terrorism, he also said it's important for Iraqi security forces to begin taking the lead in the fight for their future.
"It's the Iraqis' fight," the president told an audience here. "These troops that we're training are going to have to stand up and defend their democracy."
Bush backed his administration's new nuclear agreement with India and reaffirmed his belief that Iran must not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.
He also said he was upset that an Afghan man is being tried for converting to Christianity. Abdul Rahman, 41, faces a possible death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity 16 years ago. He has been charged with rejecting Islam, a crime under this country's Islamic laws.
"We expect them to honor the universal principle of freedom," Bush said at Capitol Music Hall, an ornate theater downtown. "I'm troubled when I hear, deeply troubled when I hear, the fact that a person who converted away from Islam may be held to account. ... I look forward to working with the government of that country to make sure that people are protected in their capacity to worship."
Bush claimed success in Afghanistan.
"We removed the Taliban from power, we've denied Al Qaeda safe have and that young country, that young democracy is now beginning to grow. Twenty-five million people are liberated as a result of the United States defending itself," Bush said.
He acknowledged, however, that there was more work to be done.
Bush's remarks about the war on terror comes as violence is on the rise along the rugged Pakistan-Afghan border where Usama bin Laden is thought to be hiding. The violence has sent relations between the two countries to new lows and underscored U.S. difficulties in containing a troubled region crucial to winning the war on terror.
More than four years after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, an intensifying campaign of bombings, including 30 suicide attacks since the fall, have targeted foreign troops, Afghan security forces and local authorities.
Bush is making series of speeches to help boost his sagging approval numbers and reassure Americans that he has a strategy for Iraq and the war on terror. Bush said the best way to defend America is to stay on the offensive, and he cautioned Americans against forgetting about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
His remarks were quickly denounced by Democrats.
"Despite the latest White House sales campaign, the American people have rightly lost confidence in President Bush's disastrous handling of Iraq," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
"America doesn't need a salesman for a dangerously incompetent policy," Kennedy said. "We need leadership and a policy that can succeed."
On other subjects, Bush urged Congress to approve a landmark plan to share nuclear technology with India, which has never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The deal would require Congress to exempt India from U.S. laws that restrict trade with countries, such as India, that have not submitted to full nuclear inspections.
Critics argue that the agreement could promote a regional arms race with China and Pakistan and make it more difficult for the United States to win support for sanctions against such countries as Iran and North Korea.
"My attitude is that over 30 years they have proven themselves to be a nonproliferator, that they're a transparent democracy, that it's in our interest for them to develop nuclear power to help their economy grow," Bush said about India.
On the other hand, Iran should never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon, he said.
"They're certainly not a democracy. They're sponsors of terrorism," Bush said, adding that Iran violated safeguards imposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"They have joined the IAEA, and yet we caught them cheating and they weren't upholding their agreements and they started to try to enrich uranium in order to develop a nuclear weapons program," he said.
Bush spoke to an audience of an estimated 2,000 people. Tickets were issued by the local Chamber of Commerce, including 100 given to the local newspaper to distribute, and about 250 military families.