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Bush: 'What I'm worried about is job creation'

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President Bush hosted a nature walk Thursday for reporters on his sprawling Texas ranch. Afterwards, he took some questions, talking about the economy, Iraq, North Korea and the emerging 2004 race for the White House. The following is an edited transcript of the question-and-answer session.

QUESTION: What do you think of the Democrats' strategy to essentially say that you're not keeping America safe enough? You've heard some of that from some of the speeches.

BUSH: Oh, you know, I understand politics, and I'm not paying attention to politics. I'm going to continue doing the job the American people expect, which is to safeguard America and Americans. And we got a war on our hands. There is a terrorist network that still is interested in harming Americans, and we'll hunt them down. There are countries which are developing weapons of mass destruction, and we will deal with them appropriately.

And one country is Iraq. Obviously, we expect them to live up to the U.N. Security resolutions and disarm, and if they won't, we'll lead a coalition to disarm them.

Another country is North Korea. And we are working with friends and allies in the region to explain clearly to North Korea it's not in their nation's interest to develop and proliferate weapons of mass destruction.

It was right here at this spot when Jiang Zemin, the leader of China, and myself got together and put out a joint declaration that we expect for the Korean Peninsula to be nuclear weapons free, and that was a serious statement. I believe the situation with North Korea will be resolved peacefully. As I said, it's a diplomatic issue, not a military issue, and we're working all fronts.

QUESTION: Could I follow that up? You said it can be resolved diplomatically. You were quoted not long ago saying that you loathe Kim Jong Il. How can you...

BUSH: Well, what I worry about in a leader like Kim Jong Il is somebody who starves his people. The United States of America is the largest, one of the largest, if not the largest donor of food to the North Korea people. And one of the reasons why the people are starving is because the leader of North Korea hasn't seen to it that their economy is strong or that they be feed.

You know, we've got a great heart. But I have no heart for somebody who starves his folks.

QUESTION: Mr. President, when you look forward and think about economic stimulus and that we're beginning a new year for the stock market, people nursing some losses, what are your views about that? And secondly, are you sensitive to the idea that a stimulus is too weighted toward helping wealthiest Americans? And are you making choices based on that, to help more middle-income and...

BUSH: Well, what I'm worried about is job creation. And I'm worried about those who are unemployed. I am concerned about those who are looking for work and can't find work. And so, next week, when I talk about an economic stimulus package, I will talk about how to create job, how best to create job, as well as how to take care of those who don't have a job.

I'm concerned about all people. And I don't view the politics of -- you know, I understand the politics of economic stimulus, that some would like to turn this into class warfare. That's not how I think. I think about the overall economy and how best to help those folks who are looking for work.

QUESTION: Will you propose new tax cuts? Do you think they're necessary now for the economy?

BUSH: I'm looking at all options. And of course, if I knew the answer, I probably wouldn't tell you now, because I'd like for you to come and pay attention to the speech, which...

QUESTION: I'll do that anyway.

BUSH: I know you'll do that.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Korea?

BUSH: Sure.

QUESTION: You're talking about a diplomatic solution, you believe that there is one. How do you think you can bring some of the other countries in the region that are reluctant right now...

BUSH: I don't think the countries are reluctant.

QUESTION: They seem reluctant to put pressure on.

BUSH: Well, they may be putting pressure on and you just don't know about it. But I know they're not reluctant when it comes to the idea of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. And we are in constant contact with the Japanese and the South Koreans and the Chinese and the Russians.

As I said, the decision to cut off fuel oil was a joint decision. It was not a U.S. decision. It was jointly made with the South Koreans and the Japanese and the European Union for that matter.

It's important for the American people to remember the history of Kim Jong Il. He created some international tension, and the United States of America went and signed an agreement with him. And the agreement was, was that we'd provide -- along with others -- we'd provide fuel oil and help. And in return, he would not enrich uranium.

Well, it turns out he was enriching uranium. And we blew the whistle on the fact that he was in violation of the '94 agreement. And the parties to that agreement came together and said, "Well, in return for him making that decision, from him abrogating the agreement, there will be a consequence." And that's where we stand right now.

So the parties have come together. There has been a joint declaration of intent. And we will continue working to resolve the situation.

Yes, Holly?

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

BUSH: I'm tired of these people calling you Heidi.

QUESTION: I appreciate you...

BUSH: And I will correct them, particularly on camera.

QUESTION: If we do have to go to war...

BUSH: With which country?

QUESTION: With Iraq. And if our economy is stagnating, what makes you confident that we can afford...

BUSH: Well, first of all, you know, I'm hopeful we won't have to go to war. And let's leave it at that.

QUESTION: OK, if we do though...

BUSH: Until Saddam Hussein makes up his mind to disarm. See, it's his choice to make. So you need to ask him that question, not me.

QUESTION: But the White House is drawing up plans to pay for the war, if we come to that. So why...

BUSH: Well, let's leave it at if for a while then until that happens.

QUESTION: OK. So you don't want to talk about whether our economy can sustain...

BUSH: Well, I thought that was the question I answered yesterday. So, go back to that question.

QUESTION: How do you size up the Democrats who are in line to oppose you?

BUSH: Not paying attention to it yet. Not paying attention to the race yet.

I've got a lot on my agenda and a lot on my platter. And I understand politics, and I know there's going to be a lot of verbiage and a lot of noise and a lot of posturing, a lot of elbowing, and to me, that's just going to be background noise.

My job is to protect the American people and work to create confidence in our economy so that people can find work.

QUESTION: At some level, were you getting ready for a rematch and hoping with a rematch with Al Gore?

BUSH: Really wasn't paying much attention to it. I just seriously was -- I've got my mind on the peace and security of the American people. And politics will sort itself out.

And one of these days, somebody will emerge, and we'll tee it up, and see when the American people want to lead. And until that happens, I'm going to be doing my job.

QUESTION: One more thing. Any thoughts from the American investor going into this new year?

BUSH: Well, I hope the American investor realizes that the -- this economy is pretty darn strong given the fact that we've been through a recession and a terrorist attack, a breach of corporate confidence because of some malfeasance, and yet the economy still grows. That's very positive.

Now I recognize that there are some uncertainties, but one thing is certain: that the economy of the United States is strong and resilient, and we must put policies in place to enhance that resiliency and enhance that strength.

QUESTION: Sir, you talked the other day about authorizing an APB for those five people that were wanted by the FBI for coming into this country. Today, one guy from Pakistan says that he is one of those people on those pictures, and he has never been to the United States. Any reaction?

BUSH: Yes. Well, we need to follow up on forged passports and people trying to come into our country illegally.

The American people need to know that, anytime we get a hint that somebody might be coming into our country to cause harm, we'll follow up on it. And, you know, if we think there's a smuggling ring that's willing to smuggle people in that might harm America, we'll deal with it.

You know, if this fellow's one of them -- I think they're trying to check that out right now -- as I recall the story -- I hadn't fully read it all, but as I recall it said he had a false passport. Kind of curious to know why he needs a false passport.

We like things above board here in America. We want people coming to our country that want either visit this great country or study in this great country or see relatives in this great country and do so in a peaceful and lawful way. And people have feeling like they got to travel here with false passports sends a pretty alarming signal to those of us who are involved with the security of the country.

QUESTION: Is that the suspicion, that there is a smuggling ring that may not have specific terrorist ties...

BUSH: Well, I'm not sure what -- you know, how the detail. All I can tell you is that we were concerned and alerted to the fact that somebody might be coming into the country.

Having said that, there are a lot of smuggling rings that we're dealing with. The INS needs to deal with that and the new Homeland Security Department will be dealing with smuggling rings, like the coyotes right south of here that are smuggling people across and treating those poor people, you know, stuffing them into these trailers and abusing them. And, you know, they need to be dealt with as well. But most smuggling rings are not terrorist related, but if we get a whiff that some of them are, we'll deal with them.

All right, let's go get some coffee.

QUESTION: One more. Are you satisfied that inspectors are getting to Saddam's weapon scientists?

BUSH: You know, he is a man who likes to play games and charades. The question is, will Saddam Hussein disarm? The world has asked him to disarm from weapons of mass destruction.

The first indication isn't very positive that he will voluntarily disarm.

BUSH: After all, he put out a declaration that the world realized was false. And the inspectors are there to verify whether or not he is disarming.

And you know, you hear reports about Iraqi scientists being interviewed, but there's a minder in the room. And it is -- you know, Saddam Hussein, hopefully, he realizes we're serious and, hopefully, he disarms peacefully. And he's a danger to the American people. He's a danger to our friends and allies.

For 11 long years, the world has dealt with him. And now he's got to understand this day of reckoning is coming, and therefore, he must disarm voluntarily. I hope he does.

All right. Let's go get a coffee.

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