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Bush Focuses on Social Security, Energy in News Conference

The News Conference
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President Bush has held a rare formal news conference, a session that focused primarily on two key domestic issues--rising gas prices, and the future of the massive government program that provides benefits to retirees.

A two-month campaign by the administration to win support for the president's Social Security reform plan has drawn little public enthusiasm. And so Mr. Bush used the opportunity before a national audience to make his case once again.

President Bush
"The system has meant a lot for a lot of people. Social security has provided a safety net that has provided dignity and peace of mind for millions of Americans in their retirement. Yet there is a hole in the safety net," he said.

The debate over Social Security will soon shift to the U.S. Congress, which is already working on the president's energy proposals. Mr. Bush urged lawmakers to put politics aside, saying the American people have waited too long for action.

Iraq, North Korea and other international matters were also discussed.

The president said there are still some people in Iraq who are resisting the shift to democracy. But he said progress is being made in preparing the Iraqis to take more control of their own security, saying U.S. generals on the ground are upbeat about the training and recruitment of Iraqi troops.

"Recruitment is high. It's amazing isn't it? People want to serve. They want their country to be free," he said.

Mr. Bush was then asked if the deployment of so many U.S. troops to Iraq is hampering America's ability to respond to other world trouble spots, such as North Korea. The president said military leaders have assured him the current U.S. troop strength is sufficient. And he went on to talk about the importance of continuing a multi-lateral diplomatic approach towards Pyongyang.

President Bush referred to North Korean leader Kim Jung Il as a dangerous man, and said it is essential for the five nations dealing with Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions to speak with one voice. He said diplomatic action by consensus is the best approach.

"The more Kim Jung Il threatens and brags, the more isolated he becomes," he said.

On other matters, the president once again stressed his support for his nominee to be U.N. Ambassador, John Bolton.

He said progress is being made in the war on terror, even though a new U.S. government report showed an increase in terrorist activity over the last year.

He also indicated he is satisfied with the stance taken by Russia on the construction of a nuclear power plant in Iran. Moscow's plan to help build the plant has been a sore spot in US - Russia relations. But the president said Russia has promised to take back all the enriched uranium it provides for the project, an indication the Russians are taking into account international concerns about Tehran's nuclear ambitions.