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Bush: U.S. aims to protect troops, not wage war with Iran

Story Highlights

• Bush says Iran supplying weapons to Iraq insurgents
• Bush says plans to increase security in Iraq with U.S., Iraqi troops on course
• The president touts North Korea agreement to stop nuclear program
• President's news conference was first in two months
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Wednesday he did not know if Iranian leaders sent weapons used to kill U.S. troops in Iraq but Iranian-made bombs were having a deadly effect and the United States had to respond.

"We know [the bombs are] there, we know they're provided by the Quds force. We know the Quds force is a part of the Iranian government," he told a news conference.

"I don't think we know who picked up the phone and said 'the Quds force, go do this,' but we know it's a vital part of the Iranian government. What matters is, is that we're responding."

The president rejected suggestions that the U.S. was creating a basis for conflict with Iran as "preposterous."

"My job is to protect our troops, and when we find devices that are in that country that are hurting our troops, we're going to do something about it, pure and simple. ... Does this mean you're trying to have a pretext for war? No. It means I'm trying to protect our troops. That's what that means," Bush said. (Full story)

The Quds force is an elite special operations unit in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard. (Watch Quds force explained Video)

In his first news conference in two months, Bush also praised the performance of the Iraqi government in moving to blunt the insurgency, and he said he was pleased with an agreement with North Korea to stop nuclear weapons development.

Bush also touched on Iran's nuclear program, saying he wants to keep the world -- not just the United States -- focused on the issue.

"I believe that's a more effective way of convincing the Iranians to give up their nuclear weapons ambitions," he said.

As for progress in Iraq, Bush said the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is fulfilling its commitment to increase troops and security in Baghdad.

In his first news conference in two months, Bush said Iraqi insurgents will do all they can to "undermine the Maliki government and its Baghdad security plan."

"These are people that will kill innocent men, women and children to achieve their objective, which is to discourage the Iraqi people, to foment sectarian violence -- and to, frankly, discourage us from helping" the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki do its job, Bush said.

Bush said insurgents are also trying hard to turn American public opinion against the war.

"They're all aimed at, frankly, causing people here in America to say it's not worth it," Bush said of insurgent attacks.

But he said the violence will be much worse if the U.S. abandons Iraq now.

"If you think the violence is bad now, imagine what it would look like if we don't help them secure the city, the capital city of Baghdad," he said.

Shortly before the conference began, the president said he spoke with Gen. David Petraeus, his new commander on the ground in Iraq.

Bush said Petraeus told him that "the commander who Prime Minister Maliki picked to operate the Baghdad security plan is in place. They're setting up a headquarters. And they're in the process of being in a position to be able to coordinate all forces."

Bush said his plan to add U.S. combat troops to Iraq was on course.

"We talked about the fact that our coalition troops that are heading into Baghdad will be arriving on time," Bush said of his conversation with Petraeus. (Watch House members face off over Iraq resolution Video)

Bush has proposed the deployment of another 21,000 troops. (Full story)

Bush cautioned the Democrat-majority Congress that they don't undermine the troops in Iraq -- whether they agree with his strategy or not.

"I am going to make it very clear to the members of Congress starting now that ... they need to fund our troops, and they need to make sure we have the flexibility necessary to get the job done," he said.

Bush said there was progress on the civilian side in Iraq as well.

"The Iraqi government's making progress on reforms that will allow more of its citizens to re-enter political life," he said, adding that he will keep up pressure on al-Maliki "to keep making the hard decisions he's making."

North Korea's nuclear program

Bush also touted an agreement with North Korea to begin closing down its nuclear program.

North Korea has 60 days to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear complex and readmit nuclear inspectors. In return, it will get 50,000 tons of fuel oil or financial aid of an equal amount. (Full story)

Bush said he was pleased with the agreements reached Tuesday at the six-party talks in Beijing, and pleased with the efforts of China to get the deal.

"This is a good first step," Bush said, but Pyongyang must follow through "and do what they say they will do."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice drew a distinction between the first 60-day period, when she said nuclear activities will be suspended, and a later "disablement phase."

"The disabling of these facilities is a sign that the North Koreans may, in fact, be ready to make a strategic choice," she said at a briefing in Washington on Tuesday. "I will not take it as a complete sign until we've seen that disablement, but obviously disablement is an important step forward."

The United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia have been holding talks with North Korean officials since 2002 in an effort to convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program.

President Bush said Wednesday that insurgents cannot be allowed to prevail.



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