Bush Says France Could Offer More Help in Lebanon, Dodges Korean Nuclear Question

President Bush acknowledged Friday that it could take time for the people of Lebanon and the world to view the war between Israel and Hezbollah as a loss for the militant group.

"The first reaction of course of Hezbollah and its supporters is to declare victory. I guess I would have done the same thing if I were them," Bush said after a meeting with his economic advisers.

"Sometimes it takes people awhile to come to the sober realization of what forces create stability and what don't," he said. "Hezbollah is a force of instability."

Bush also expressed some disappointment with France's decision to offer just 400 soldiers to a U.N. peacekeeping force being developed to calm the situation in southern Lebanon. France was expected to lead the mission, and its announcement of such a small number led to doubts that the force would deploy quickly.

"France has said they will send some troops," the president said. "We hope they'll send more."

Bush refused to address reports that North Korea may be preparing for an underground test of a nuclear bomb.

"It's a hypothetical question and you're asking me to divulge any intelligence information I have and I'm not going to do that, as you know. I'm not going to break tradition," he said.

Yet, Bush went on to say, "If North Korea were to conduct a test, it's just a constant reminder for people in the neighborhood in particular that North Korea poses a threat and we expect our friends, those sitting around the table with us, to act in such a manner as to help rid the world of the threat."

He was referring to six-party talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. The participants are Japan, China, Russia, the United States and North and South Korea.

The stated topic for the gathering of Bush and his economic advisers at the presidential retreat here in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains was the economy. Bush was upbeat, despite soaring gas prices and signs of a slowdown — including falling industrial production and rising unemployment.

The meetings, which began with a dinner Thursday evening, came at a time when only 37 percent of Americans support the president's handling of the economy, according to AP-Ipsos polling in early August. It also comes about two months before congressional midterm elections that will determine whether Republicans continue to control the House and the Senate.

"The foundation of our economy is solid and is strong," the president said.

"The economy grew at a 4 percent annual rate during the first half of 2006," he said. "And this means that our economy is maintaining solid growth in performing in line with expectations."