President Bush is urging state leaders to put politics aside in this election year and work with Washington to tackle the problems facing the country. The remarks were made in a speech to the annual meeting of U.S. governors.

The president said there is no denying that politics can get in the way in an election year. "I fully understand it is going to be the year of the sharp elbow and the quick tongue. But my pledge to you is we will continue to work with you," he said.

In remarks at the White House to the National Governors Association, Mr. Bush stressed the themes of his re-election campaign. He said America faces big challenges, both at home and abroad.

The president said the economy is moving in the right direction, although more needs to be done. He also talked about the war on terrorism and America's role in Iraq.

Mr. Bush once again defended the intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq, even though no weapons of mass destruction have been found. He said there was ample evidence that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein posed a threat, stressing successive U.S. administrations were on agreement on that point. "My predecessor and his administration looked at the same intelligence and concluded that Saddam Hussein was a threat and that is why Congress resolved to remove Saddam from power through regime change," he said.

The president said it is essential for the United States to succeed in creating a free, democratic Iraq. He took note of the ongoing dispute in that country over the best way to put together a new government, saying the energetic exchange of views is a sign that freedom is taking root. "I do not think it is all that bad that people are arguing about the nature of government. It is a pretty good sign. We argue about government all the time here," he said.

His audience at the White House was made up of governors from both parties, including members of a small bipartisan group that recently visited Iraq.

Mr. Bush will also speak at a reception for republican governors only. The White House says that appearance will be a political event, with more direct talk about prospects for the 2004 election.