Wednesday, July 2, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush said Wednesday it has been a “tough month” in Afghanistan, where more U.S. and NATO troops died during the past two months than in Iraq. He said he was weighing whether to send more troops.

The president told a Rose Garden news conference that one reason for the rising deaths “is that our troops are taking the fight to a tough enemy … of course there is going to be resistance.” It has also been a “tough month for the Taliban,” he said.

Bush also urged Americans to pressure Congress to allow more oil exploration in the United States.

“We can help alleviate shortages by drilling for oil and gas in our own country, something I’ve been advocating ever since I’ve been the president. I’ve been reminding our people that we can do so in environmentally friendly ways,” he said. “And yet the Congress, the Democratically controlled Congress now has refused to budge. It makes no sense.”

Bush spoke ahead of a trip to Japan this weekend to participate in the annual Group of Eight economic summit.

The president sought to tamp down speculation that Israel will launch a military strike against Iran before he leaves office. He said all options are on the table but said military action would not be his first choice.

“I have made it very clear to all parties that the first option ought to be solve this problem diplomatically,” Bush said. “And the best way to solve it diplomatically is for the United States to work with other nations to send a focused message – and that is, you will be isolated, and you will have economic hardship, if you continue to enrich.”

Iran says its nuclear program is aimed only at generating electricity and cites its right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue uranium enrichment, a process that can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or material for a warhead.

The United Nations has demanded that Iran suspend enrichment and has imposed three rounds of similar financial sanctions on Iranian companies and individuals. The United States and European allies have been pushing Tehran to halt enrichment and offering incentives, to no avail.

In June, militants killed more U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq for the second straight month. It was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the war began.

Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this year told NATO allies that they would increase troop levels in Afghanistan in 2009 in response to the growing violence. The United States now has about 31,000 troops there – the most since the war began in October 2001 – and has been pressing allies to contribute more.

As the holiday weekend began, Bush said Congress was in part to blame for rising gas prices that have stung American consumers.

He said lawmakers continue to block his proposals, including lifting prohibitions on offshore oil drilling. The president has also called for allowing oil drilling in a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, easing the regulatory process to expand oil refining capacity, and lifting restrictions on oil shale leasing in the Green River Basin of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Bush even appealed to Americans to lobby their congressional representatives on the matter.

“We have got the opportunity to find more crude oil here at home in environmentally friendly ways and they ought to be writing their Congress people about it,” Bush said.

Bush outlined his goals for his last G-8 summit of nations, which are the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.

The debate about what to do about global warming will be front and center in Hokkaido, too, although the discussion will be on the sidelines of the actual summit. Bush is hosting a meeting of major economies to urge nations to embrace long-term commitments to reduce green house gas emissions, but he appeared to be lowering expectations.

“The first step is to agree to a long-term goal,” Bush said, adding that his advisers think other nations are “now coming to that clear understanding that we’re going to have to come to a long-term goal. Hopefully, we can do it at this meeting. If not, we’ll continue to press forward to get it done.”

Bush said that at the summit in Japan he will urge other nations to make good on earlier pledges to help alleviate malaria, HIV-AIDS and other deadly diseases. He said he would make a push to train more health care workers in areas of the world where people lack access to medical care.

Bush also said that he would call on nations to increase their shipments of food, fertilizer and seed to ease global food shortages. He said developed nations need to share advanced agricultural technology and work to lower tariffs and agricultural subsidies that impede trade.

The president said he’ll also use the summit to remind the world that the threat of terrorist attacks has not gone away.

“The temptation is to kinda say, ‘Maybe this isn’t really a war. Maybe this is just a bunch of disgruntled folks that occasionally come and hurt us.’ That’s not the way I feel about it.”

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