President Bush says the election process in Iraq must move forward, despite continuing violence and problems with the training of Iraqi security forces. Iraq was one of many issues addressed by the president at an end-of-year news conference.
President Bush says he does not expect the election process to be trouble free, and acknowledges no one can predict all the twists and turns ahead in the path toward democracy.
"Yet, I am confident of the result, confident the terrorists will fail, the elections will go forward, and Iraq will be a democracy that reflects the values and traditions of its people," he said.
He notes there are concerns about the training of Iraqi security forces, and the chilling effect the insurgency and its bloody tactics could have on people in Iraq, and those watching in the United States.
Mr. Bush says there have been cases where Iraqi forces have left the battlefield and that is unacceptable. But he says, in other areas, they have fought hard against insurgents who are targeting innocent Iraqis.
"Car bombs that destroy young children or car bombs that indiscriminately bomb religious sites are effective propaganda tools," he said. "But we must meet the objective, which is to help the Iraqis defend themselves, and at the same time have a political process that goes forward. It is in our long term interest that we succeed."
During the session with reporters, the president also expressed hope about the Middle East peace process. He said Palestinian elections planned for next month are just the beginning. And he dismissed the notion that some see his talk of a two-state solution as empty rhetoric.
"Now is the time to move the process forward," he said. "But we cannot shortcut the process by saying, 'well, the Palestinians can not self-govern, and they are not suitable for a democracy.' I subscribe to the theory that the only way to achieve peace is to have democracies side-by-side. Democracies do not fight each other."
When questioning turned to U.S. relations with Moscow, Mr. Bush again struck a positive tone.
He did not speak directly about differences between Washington and Moscow regarding the disputed presidential elections in Ukraine. He emphasized that his good relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin allows them to deal with disagreements candidly, and with respect. He referred to the current state of U.S.-Russia ties as complex, and emphasized areas where the two countries are working together, such as the war on terrorism.
"And the relationship is an important relationship. And I would call the relationship a good relationship," he said.
On other issues, President Bush again voiced his support for diplomatic efforts to deal with North Korea and Iran's nuclear ambitions. And he said he continues to believe that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is doing a good job, despite criticism from some members of the U.S. Congress.
Mr. Bush made clear that his legislative agenda for the coming year will be topped by domestic concerns, including efforts to revamp the massive government program that uses a special tax fund to provide pensions for the elderly.
The president stressed that the new federal government budget he will send Congress in February will slash the current deficit. He said it will be a spending plan that fits the needs of the times, and provides the resources necessary to defend the American people.