Jan. 30, 2007 — -- President Bush believes he might have been misunderstood when he started speaking about the need to go after Iran for its involvement in aiding the insurgency in Iraq.
As he traveled to Illinois today to share good news on the economy, he said the subject has been overshadowed by the war in Iraq, and he clarified his stance on Iran, which he does not plan to invade.
"Nobody's talking about that," he told ABC News' Betsy Stark. "To say that defending ourselves in Iraq … has some greater goal is just simply not the case."
Rather, Bush is going after those who may try to harm U.S. troops. "We'll deal with it by finding their supply chains and their agents and … arresting them, getting them out of harm's way. In other words, we're going to protect our troops," Bush said. "It's not tough talk to say that the commander in chief expects our troops to be protected."
And he hopes he can use diplomacy to convince the Iranians to "get rid of their nuclear weapons ambitions."
"And the best way to do so is to continue rallying other nations to join us and expressing ourselves very clear to the Iranians that 'You will be isolated, that you won't be able to achieve your greatness, that you'll hurt your people economically if you continue to insist upon a nuclear weapon,'" he said.
In Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi forces engaged in a major battle in Najaf this week, killing what may have been hundreds of militants from a cult. Bush described the group as "extremists" who were "trying to do harm to innocent people."
He said the key for the Iraqi government is to go after killers, "whether they be Shia or Sunni.
"Unfortunately, extremists and killers have put in jeopardy this new government. And I made the judgment that they needed our help to secure their capital," Bush continued. "Once the capital gets secured, it would give them breathing room to do the hard work necessary to do politics and rebuilding."
As Bush spoke on the economy today, a Senate committee was tackling another issue, holding hearings on how the White House has dealt with scientists and their findings on global warming. Some have criticized the administration for suppressing evidence of climate change.
When asked if he still doubted that the cause of global warming was manmade, as scientists seem to agree overwhelmingly that it is, Bush said, "Well, I don't know where you got that quote from, but I believe it's a serious problem. And I know it can be addressed."
And he said he's addressing global warming through new technologies. "I think there needs to be time for some of these technologies to kick in, to give them a chance to work," he said.
CEOs of large companies, including General Electric. and DuPont, have called on Bush to go a step further and support mandatory caps on emissions standards, and he said he is not waiting for a timeline to reach that goal.
"We're not waiting 10 years," he said. "We're going as fast as we possibly can. Ethanol production has gone up to about 5 billion, maybe 6 billion gallons, from a low level, when I first got elected president.
"In other words, there's a lot of things happening. But you just can't have instant technology," Bush added. "It takes a while for technologies to come on the market. If we could get rid of our addiction of oil overnight, of course, I would do that. But it takes a while for these ethanols and these cellulosic ethanols and the new batteries and the new solar energy-type devices to become, you know, prevalent."
When Bush was re-elected more than two years ago, he spoke confidently of his "political capital," but now he faces a different reality, with Democrats controlling Congress and all-time low approval ratings for his administration. Still, he believes he has some political capital left.
"I think the president's always got a pretty loud microphone and is able to get things done," he said. "But no question the dynamic has changed and that the Congress has changed and that I'm going to be dealing with new leadership.
"I've still got my friends in the Republican Party with whom I will work, but I've got a new group of leaders to work with, the speaker and the leader of the Senate. I'm looking forward to doing the best I can to work with them for the good of the country," Bush added.
He believes they can come up with a spending program to balance the budget "within five years."
"I'll be presenting that budget next week," he said. "Hopefully, you know, they're not going to try to raise taxes. I'm going to work hard to make sure they don't. I've got a veto that will prevent them from raising taxes. … I think it will hurt the economy."
He laid out a new energy and health care plan during his recent State of the Union address, which immediately faced scrutiny in Congress.
"Well, if people all of a sudden say -- if their attitude is, 'George Bush is for it, I'm against it,' if that's what you're saying, that's the kind of attitude the American people don't really want to see," he said.
"I've laid out a good idea, and I would hope that the leadership in the Congress will take a good look at it. There's a lot people who think it's a good idea and a lot of people who strongly support it. It's the best way, in my judgment, to make sure that medicine remains in private hands and that the main decider for health care decisions is the doc and the patient, not insurance companies or the government," he said.
"We'll see … it will be an interesting debate," Bush said.