Surrounded by troops who have fought in Iraq, President Bush Friday praised America's soldiers for the fight against terrorism. The president also heard positive remarks from Republican Senator John McCain, who has reportedly rejected proposals to join Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's campaign for the White House.

Speaking to soldiers at Fort Lewis in the northwestern state of Washington, President Bush was introduced by Senator McCain, who has repeatedly denied suggestions that he may run for vice president on a ticket with presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry.

Senator McCain praised President Bush's leadership in the war on terrorism since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

"He heard the call to action on that terrible morning in September and summoned the rest of us to this long and difficult task," the senator said. "He has led this country with moral clarity about the stakes involved and with firm resolve to achieve unconditional victory. There have been ups and downs as there are in any war, but like you he has not wavered in his determination to protect this country and to make the world a better, safer, freer place."

In the past, Senator McCain has criticized the Bush administration for not deploying enough troops in Iraq.

President Bush told the soldiers that it was necessary to invade Iraq after the country's deposed leader, Saddam Hussein, defied orders from the United Nations to disarm.

Mr. Bush says Saddam Hussein's regime posed a threat to the American people and people around the world.

"So I had a choice to make, either to trust the word of a mad man or defend America," he said. "Given that choice, I will defend America every time."

The president told the cheering soldiers, who were dressed in camouflage uniforms, that America did not come to conquer Iraq, but to liberate the country.

Mr. Bush said power will be turned over to a new government in Baghdad in less than two weeks.

"On June 30, full sovereignty will be transferred to the interim government," he added. "The Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist. An American embassy will open in the capital of a free Iraq."

President Bush says with each step forward on the path to self-government and self-reliance, terrorists in Iraq will grow more desperate and more violent.

He says those responsible for the bloodshed know they have no future in a free Iraq.

President Bush says the United States is not intimidated by the insurgents and will stay in Iraq to, "finish the job."