On Apec sidelines, Bush defends Iraq policy

United States President George Bush on Saturday swatted down calls in Congress for a US troop withdrawal from Iraq, saying that American military leaders believe that retreat now would be “a recipe for disaster”.

“So we will fight the terrorists in Iraq and we will stay in the fight until we have achieved the victory our brave troops have fought and bled for,” said Bush.

Bush defended his Iraq strategy in remarks prepared for a speech at Osan Air Base, headquarters for the 7th Air Force, the primary US Air Force unit in South Korea.

Travelling in Asia, there has been no respite from Iraq for Bush.

He’s had to deal with an Iraq rebuff from a friend, South Korea, and with turmoil over his policies back home.

“In Washington there are some who say that the sacrifice is too great, and they urged us to set a date for withdrawal before we have completed our mission,” the president said.

“Those who are in the fight know better.”

Back home, Republican John Murtha, a prominent Democrat defence hawk, called for a US withdrawal from Iraq over six months. In a speech on Thursday, Murtha said, “Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against US forces and we have become a catalyst for violence.
The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion.”

In his remarks, Bush said a senior US commander in Iraq, Major General William Webster, had said that setting a deadline for withdrawal would be “a recipe for disaster”.

“And as long as I am commander in chief, our strategy in Iraq will be driven by the sober judgement of our military commanders on the ground,” the president said.

Bush was wrapping up a three-day visit here by holding talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, an ally in the war on terror, and attending the closing meetings of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum.

Bush was wrapping up a three-day visit to South Korea by attending the annual summit of the Apec forum.

On the sidelines of the summit, Bush held talks on Saturday with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the leader of the world’s most populous Islamic nation and a US ally in fighting terrorism. On this trip, Bush has held up Indonesia—along with Malaysia, whose leader he met on Friday—as an example of Asia’s newer democracies that nations like China should follow.

As the leaders conferred on Friday, riot police sprayed rock-throwing protesters with high-powered water hoses near the summit venue. At least one person was arrested and 11 officers were injured, police said. The meetings were undisturbed.

Bush also on Friday met with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and told him Washington supports a Moscow proposal that could deny Iran the ability to produce nuclear weapons.

“It may provide a way out,” National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said of the plan, discussed during an hour-long meeting Bush and Putin had on a variety of difficult topics.

US officials’ concerns that Putin may be rolling back democratic progress in Russia have grown with the introduction of legislation last week by members of Putin’s party that would keep foreign non-governmental organisations from operating offices in Russia and deny foreign funds to Russian organisations that engage

in certain political activities.

Two former vice presidential candidates, Republican Jack Kemp and Democrat John Edwards, had urged Bush to bring up the issue with Putin.

“If this proposal comes into force, the government will clearly have in its hands the authority to close down public organisations simply because it finds their views and activities inconvenient,” Kemp and Edwards wrote in a letter to Bush.

Hadley said Bush raised the matter with Putin but would not describe what he said.

Russia, a key Iranian ally, has refused to support Bush’s eagerness to go to the UN Security Council with suspicions that Iran is trying to build a nuclear arsenal. Also, over US objections, Russia is building a nuclear reactor for a power plant in Iran.

But Bush praised Putin for several steps Russia has taken that “would reduce the proliferation risks” in Iran, Hadley said.

Russia has helped bring Tehran back into European-led negotiations over uranium enrichment and reached agreement with Iran that any spent fuel rods from the plant would be sent back to Russia. Bush expressed support for a Russian plan that would allow Iran to convert uranium but would move the enrichment process to a

facility in Russia, Hadley said. - Sapa-AP

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