U.S. President George Bush defended his record in office and wished his successor well as he went before reporters for a farewell news conference.

At times nostalgic, at times defensive, Mr. Bush talked about the issues he faced as president and the challenges that lie before Barack Obama saying, "I genuinely mean what I say - I wish him all the very best."

He said preventing another terrorist attack will be the biggest challenge facing the new chief executive.

"The most urgent threat that he will have to deal with, and other presidents after him will have to deal with, is an attack on our homeland," Mr. Bush said.

The president was asked about his 2002 State of the Union address, when he first referred to an Axis of Evil - Iran, North Korea and Iraq.

He said Iran remains dangerous and North Korea is still a problem. But he pointed to progress in Iraq, noting that his decision to send in extra U.S. forces helped turn the tide of the war. He acknowledged the young Iraqi democracy is still fragile.

"The question is, in the long run, will this democracy survive and that is going to be the challenge for future presidents," Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush also defended his policy in the Middle East. He was asked if he thought the Israeli assault on Gaza might end by Inauguration Day. He did not answer directly, but he said Hamas militants must stop rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel.

"There will not be a sustainable cease-fire if they continue firing rockets," Mr. Bush said. "I happen to believe the choice is Hamas's to make."

Mr. Bush said he is not bothered by criticism of his policies, and he strongly denied the notion that America's credibility around the world has been damaged under his watch.

He also disputed accusations that he has been a poor steward of the nation's economy.

"Look, I inherited a recession and I am ending on a recession," said Mr. Bush. "In the meantime, there were 52 months of uninterrupted job growth."

President Bush said he has been discussing the economic situation with the president-elect. He said he is looking forward to Inauguration Day, noting he will have a front row seat for history as the nation's first African-American president takes the oath of office.

"He will get sworn in, and they will have the lunch and all the deal up there on Capitol Hill, and then he will come back and go through the inauguration (the inaugural parade), and then he will walk into the Oval Office, and there will be a moment when the responsibilities of the president land squarely on his shoulders," said Mr. Bush.

In keeping with tradition, President Bush will leave the Capitol immediately after the swearing-in ceremony. He will board a helicopter to the side of the inaugural platform and begin his journey back home to the state of Texas.