WASHINGTON—President Bush declared Wednesday that his soaring inaugural vow to expand freedom and end tyranny around the world wasn't a major shift in U.S. foreign policy, trying to correct the global impression that it was.
Bush opened his White House news conference by saying that "ending tyranny" is "a long-term goal" that "will require the commitment of generations."
While he declared in his inaugural address last week that future American relations with "every ruler and every nation" would depend on their observance of human rights, he downplayed that point Wednesday, saying, "I don't think foreign policy is an either-or proposition," and contending that human rights is but one U.S. concern among many other practical objectives.
Coming from the president himself, Bush's remarks amplified efforts by lower administration officials that began the day after the inauguration to correct the widespread impression that he'd proclaimed a new manifesto that, if followed, could put America at odds with repressive governments that are also key U.S. allies in the war against terrorism and other global priorities, such as Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and even Russia and China.
The president also mourned the deaths of 30 Marines and a sailor in a helicopter crash Wednesday in western Iraq, and urged the Iraqi people to defy insurgents' death threats and vote in Sunday's election, Iraq's first since the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in spring 2003.
"The story today is going to be very discouraging to the American people," Bush said, referring to the crash. "I understand that. ... And we weep and mourn when soldiers lose their life. ... But it is the long-term objective that is vital, and that is to spread freedom."
Hailing the coming Iraqi election, the president said: "I anticipate a grand moment in Iraqi history. ... People are voting. And this is part of a process, to write a constitution and then elect a permanent assembly. And it's exciting times for the Iraqi people."
Bush said U.S. troops would remain in Iraq until they "complete the mission" of enabling Iraq "to defend itself from terrorists." Training Iraqis to defend their nation is the key to American withdrawal, he said.
Asked his view of U.S. critics of his Iraq policy, the president said: "I think the Iraqi people are wondering whether or not this nation has the will necessary to stand with them as democracy evolves. The enemy would like nothing more than the United States to precipitously pull out."
Turning back to his inaugural speech, Bush said he presented nothing new when he said the "ultimate goal" of the United States was "ending tyranny in our world."
Asked if he considered his speech a policy shift, he replied:
"No. As I said, it reflects the policy of the past, but sets a bold, new goal for the future. And I believe this country is best when it heads toward an ideal world."
Politicians, pundits and diplomats across the globe had interpreted the speech as a major turn in U.S. foreign policy, striking in the firmness of its declaration that America wouldn't tolerate dictators and abusers of human rights, be they friend or foe.
"We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people," the president said in his inaugural address. "America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies. Yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed."
Asked Wednesday if he'll press countries such as Russia, China and Saudi Arabia on human rights and democracy or give them a pass for helping unrelated U.S. interests, Bush replied: "I don't think foreign policy is an either-or proposition."
Across the Atlantic on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the president's staunchest ally on Iraq, defended Bush's inaugural address.
"I always thought progressives were in favor of democracy instead of tyranny," Blair said, delivering the keynote address at the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. "No one could say the inauguration speech was lacking in idealism."
During his 47-minute news conference, the president touched on several other pressing issues, including:
_ He'll promote his Social Security proposals on a trip through five or more states after next Wednesday night's State of the Union address.
_ He considers changing the nation's immigration system a priority, even if Republican lawmakers don't. Senate Republicans omitted that from their list of 10 priorities this week.
_ He'll submit a budget to Congress next month that would slash the federal deficit in half over five years. The White House will project that this year's deficit will reach a record $427 billion.
(Knight Ridder correspondent Kevin G. Hall contributed to this report.)
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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