- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2006

3:28 p.m.

President Bush today demanded stiff sanctions on North Korea for its reported nuclear test and asserted that the United States has “no intention of attacking” the reclusive regime.

Still, Mr. Bush said in a Rose Garden press conference, the United States remains committed to diplomacy but also “reserves all options to defend our friends in the region.”

He also vowed increased military cooperation with allies, including bolstering ballistic missile defenses in the region and increased efforts to prevent Pyongyang from importing missile and nuclear technology.

Mr. Bush rejected international appeals — such as one made as he spoke by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan — for the United States to hold one-on-one talks with North Korea.

The president rejected criticism from Democrats that his administration had not paid enough attention to the brewing North Korean nuclear crisis. “The North Korean situation was serious for years,” he said in a veiled swipe at former President Bill Clinton.

Mr. Bush said Pyongyang had broken a 1994 deal negotiated by the Clinton administration in which Pyongyang had promised not to develop a nuclear program.

“It’s the intransigence of the North Korean leader that speaks volumes about the process,” he said of Kim Jong-il. “It is his unwillingness to choose a way forward for this country — a better way forward for his country. It is his decision.”

Mr. Bush called for a resumption of six-way talks among North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States. Such talks have been suspended since November 2005.

The president also defended his Iraq policy against rising calls, mostly from Democrats but also from some in his own party, to set a withdrawal timetable.

“If we were to leave before the job is done, the enemy’s coming after us,” Mr. Bush said.

With just four weeks before the midterm elections, he acknowledged that the war in Iraq is having a political impact. It is “tough on the American psyche,” he said.

Mr. Bush said that there were “loud voices” in the Democratic Party for him to withdraw troops but that he was not going to “get out before the job is done.”

“I think the elections will be decided by security and the economy,” Mr. Bush said. He pointed to signs of significant improvement in job creation, lower energy prices and tax cuts that he said are working. He opened his press conference by trumpeting new figures showing a big reduction in the U.S. budget deficit.

He predicted that his party would maintain control of both the House and Senate in next month’s midterm elections. In the House, Democrats need a 15-seat pickup to gain control. In the Senate, they need six.

Mr. Bush was asked about a recent comment by the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, that Iraq was drifting “sideways” and that the United States should consider major changes if Baghdad doesn’t get the violence under control within the next few months.

“I appreciate Sen. Warner from going over there and taking a look,” the president said. “I completely agree.”

Still, he insisted, “We’re constantly changing tactics.”

Mr. Bush dismissed as “just not credible” a new study that contends nearly 655,000 Iraqis have died because of the war. The study was based on interviews by researchers with Iraqi families and suggests a far higher death toll than other estimates.

Mr. Bush, who in the past has suggested 30,000 civilian deaths in Iraq, would not give a figure for overall fatalities.

“I do know that a lot of innocent people have died,” he said.

On another subject, Mr. Bush was asked about legislation authorizing construction of a 700-mile fence along parts of the U.S.-Mexican border and whether the fence would be solid and unbroken or a “virtual fence” that relies on electronic sensors.

“We’re going to do both. Make sure we’re going to build it in a spot where it works,” he said. Mr. Bush said the fence, on which construction already has begun, would be a combination of an actual barrier and electronics.

“You can’t fence the entire border,” he said.

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