WASHINGTON – President Bush spent 15 minutes on the phone with Iraq's prime minister Monday to assure him the United States is not pulling out of that country any time soon, nor forcing a deadline for Baghdad to rein in the daily attacks claiming scores of Iraqi civilians each week.
But as he told FOX News' Bill O'Reilly in an exclusive interview, Bush did prod Nouri al-Maliki to take some substantive action to control the sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunni Muslims.
"I said, you know, 'We expect you to make tough political decisions to move forward.' And he assured me he would continue to make tough political decisions," Bush said.
Bush called al-Maliki Monday to discuss the rumors about timetables and expiration dates, and the two agreed that false claims are "inspiring terrorists," White House spokesman Tony Snow said. However, the president did not express a sense of urgency with al-Maliki who told Bush that the rumors may undercut confidence in his government and the ability to work effectively in fighting terror.
"He knows he has got to provide the security necessary for this country to move forward," Bush told FOX News.
The president dismissed the notion of a partition, in which Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds would be geographically split with oil revenues paying the costs of running three separate autonomous regions.
"I don't think that's the right way to go. I think that'll increase sectarian violence. I think that'll make it more dangerous and so does Prime Minister Maliki," Bush said. "Federalism is one thing, in other words, giving a pass between regional government and central government. But dividing and basically saying, 'There will be three autonomous regions,' will create not only a situation where Sunnis and Sunni nations and Sunni radicals will be competing against Shia radicals but the Kurds will then create problems for Turkey and Syria. And you have got a bigger mess than we have at this point in time, which I believe is gonna be solved."
He added that one of the tough decisions to be made by the government is what to do with oil revenues.
"I happen to believe the oil belongs to the people and to the extent that they understand that, it'll help unify the country," Bush said.
Recent polling shows that as much as 60 percent of Americans are now against the war in Iraq; and some prominent Republicans, including Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have suggested a change of course is needed if the Iraqi government can't restore order in the next two or three months.
Bush said American opposition to the Iraq war is growing because they want the U.S. to win, but are being peppered with pessimism about the coalition forces' ability to stop the violence. The president acknowledged that October has been a particularly bloody month for U.S. troops, but said success can't be determined by a yardstick that measures zero violence.
"Hardly any society would be able to meet that," Bush said.
Instead, the goal is to have "an Iraq that can defend itself, sustain itself, govern itself, and is an ally in the War on Terror. And that, that goal is achievable, with a combination of both tough security measures by the U.S. coalition and Iraqi forces, and a political process that recognizes that 15 million people want a unity government," Bush said.
Bush said Americans want to know that the military on the ground is flexible enough to meet an insurgent enemy that uses irregular war tactics. He added that Americans are also a humane people that can't stand to see innocent lives spent in the crossfire.
"This is what Usama bin Laden and (Ayman al-) Zawahiri had plainly stated, that 'it's just a matter of time before America loses her nerve and leaves,'" Bush said.
Bush said efforts to undermine the war effort by claiming America can't win is illogical and ignores the stakes. He said failure is not an option.
"It is conceivable that within decades, the Middle East will be a place where moderate governments have been toppled; extremists and radicals will have gained control of all resources; and then [they] use that to create a blackmail situation against the West and Iran will have a nuclear weapon, to complicate the mix," Bush said.
"And 20 or 30 years from now, if that were to be the case, people would look back and say, 'What happened to them? How come they couldn't see the threat of a generation of Americans that are dealing with something much more violent than we are seeing today?'"
While the president leaves it to his generals in Iraq to determine events on the ground, half a world away, he is entrusting would-be allies to make sure North Korea is kept in check.
Bush told FOX News that the Chinese are already inspecting cargo in and out of North Korea, as is their mandate since the United Nations Security Council unanimously imposed sanctions this weekend. The president waved aside suggestions from some Chinese officials that they might not enforce the U.N.'s arms embargo on North Korea.
The president said Beijing "understands the consequences of an arms race in the Far East," and that he wasn't counting on the reported words of a few officials in China who suggested they won't enforce the sanctions.
The government in China understands the stakes of North Korea having a nuclear weapon, Bush said. "They are worried about nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula. They are deeply concerned about countries in the neighborhood deciding to arm up in order to protect themselves against North Korea."
U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte confirmed Monday that North Korea did in fact detonate a nuclear device on Oct. 9.
"Analysis of air samples collected on October 11, 2006 detected radioactive debris which confirms that North Korea conducted an underground nuclear explosion in the vicinity of P'unggye," read a written statement.
The samples detected an explosion yield of less than a kiloton, which is the equivalent of the force produced by 1,000 tons of TNT. The bomb on Hiroshima at the end of World War II is estimated to have been around 12 to 15 kilotons.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is headed to the region on Tuesday to meet with Chinese officials and others about coordinating the sanctions against the regime without making worse the situation for average civilians in North Korea. She said she will discuss "how to design a practical architecture for detecting and screening for such dangerous materials."
The secretary also suggested that Pyongyang may never be swayed from its nuclear ambitions.
"We have spent the time and the effort in building that coalition of states that can actually provide the right combination to either induce North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program or, if necessary, to deal with the fact that it will not give up its program, and to punish that behavior," she said.
Bush rejected calls by individuals who call for holding one-on-one talks with North Korea, saying that type of diplomacy had been tried before but failed to reach a resolution.
"They didn't honor the agreement. And so, I decided that since that didn't work, we ought to try another way forward in order to solve this problem peacefully, and that is to have China at the table, and … get South Korea at the table, and Japan at the table and Russia at the table. My idea is real simple on this. More leaders saying the same thing to North Korea makes it more likely we'll be able to solve this issue peacefully," Bush said.
Bush said China and the U.S. share the same goal in keeping North Korea nuclear-free, and the two nations along with France and Russia are also bent on making sure Iran doesn't get nuclear weapons.
"I actually would give them more credit than you are, from my perspective," Bush told O'Reilly. "I had a good talk with Vladimir Putin the other day about the Iranian issue, and he knows full well that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon. Those weapons can fly west, or they could fly north. And he is fully aware of the threat of a nuclear Iran."
Bush wouldn't say flat out whether he thinks North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who has never spoken to Bush, is insane, but said he should know that "there is better way forward for his country."
"I am deeply concerned about the starvation inside of North Korea. I am worried about concentration camps inside of North Korea. I am worried about the human condition inside North Korea," he said.CountryWatch: Iraq