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US Will Stay the Course in Iraq,  Bush Says - 2004-04-14


President Bush says the United States will live up to its commitments in Iraq, despite the difficulties of recent days. Mr. Bush used a nationally broadcast news conference to indicate he would be willing to send more troops, if American military commanders tell him it is necessary.

With violence in Iraq on the rise and troubling images reaching America's shores, the president says everyone must know that the United States will stay the course.

Mr. Bush opened his news conference by saying he wanted to talk directly to the American people about the situation in Iraq and the stakes involved. "Now is the time and Iraq is the place in which the enemies of the civilized world are testing the will of the civilized world," he said. "We must not waver."

He said the United States and its coalition allies will live up to their commitment to restore Iraqi sovereignty on June 30. Mr. Bush stressed they would continue to provide the security needed to make sure democracy can take root, noting more troops could be sent in the days and months ahead.

"Our commanders on the ground have got the authority necessary to deal with violence and will. They will, in firm fashion. And, that is what by far the vast majority of Iraqis want," said Mr. Bush. "They want security so they can advance towards a free society."

Mr. Bush said the recent surge in violence is not a civil war or an uprising. He says it is a power-grab by elements that want the coalition to leave and that fear the advance of freedom and reform in the Middle East.

"A desperate enemy is also a dangerous enemy and our work may become more difficult before it is finished. No one can predict all the hazards that lie ahead, or the costs they will bring," he said. "Yet in this conflict there is no safe alternative to resolute action."

All the questions asked during his hour-long session with reporters focused on two topics: Iraq and the president's response to terrorism prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

But, overshadowing the entire hour were the political realities of a presidential election year. Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq and the war on terror have become twin pillars of his re-election campaign. And at one point he was asked by a reporter: will pursuing these policies be worth it if you lose your job?

"I don't plan on losing my job," said Mr. Bush. "I plan on telling the American people that I have got a plan to win the war on terror. And, I believe they will stay with me."

It was the president's first formal evening news conference in mote than a year. And, it came in the midst a period of intense diplomatic activity dealing -- not just with Iraq but, with the Middle East peace process, as well.

While he was preparing for the session with White House reporters, Mr. Bush was also getting ready for talks, later today, with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Mr. Sharon hopes to win Bush administration support for his plan to unilaterally withdraw Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip and a few remote settlements in the West Bank. President Bush has said any withdrawal from occupied territory would be welcome, but cautions it must take place as part of a peace process leading to a Palestinian state.

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