By Deb Riechmann, Associated Press Writer
President Bush said Thursday he understands and respects the views of anti-war advocates like a California mother camped outside his Texas ranch to mourn her soldier son fallen in Iraq, but said it would be a mistake to bring U.S. troops home now.
"I understand the anguish that some feel about the death that takes place," Bush said.
"I also have heard the voices of those saying: 'Pull out now!' " he said. "And I've thought about their cry and their sincere desire to reduce the loss of life by pulling our troops out. I just strongly disagree."
Immediate withdrawal "would send a terrible signal to the enemy," the president said.
Cindy Sheehan has been camped along a road near Bush's ranch since Saturday, asking to talk to Bush about her son Casey and vowing to remain until his Texas vacation ends later this month. Casey was killed five days after he arrived in Iraq last year. He was 24.
"I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan," Bush said. "She feels strongly about her position, and she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America. She has a right to her position, and I thought long and hard about her position. I've heard her position from others, which is: Get out of Iraq now. And it would be a mistake for the security of this country and the ability to lay the foundations for peace in the long run if we were to do so."
By Thursday, about 50 people had joined Sheehan's cause, pitching tents in muddy, shallow ditches and hanging anti-war banners; two dozen others have sent flowers. Her name was among the most popular search topics Wednesday on Internet blogs.
Bush spoke to reporters on a day when he played host to his administration's top national security, foreign policy and defense advisers at a time of increasing violence in Iraq and new nuclear worries involving Iran and North Korea.
Bush also indicated that the new Iranian president will receive a U.S. visa to attend an annual United Nations gathering next month and welcomed the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency's warning to Tehran about the consequences of its nuclear ambitions.
Bush said U.S. investigators still have not yet determined what role Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have played in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Even so, Bush said, the United States has separate obligations to other countries as the host nation for the United Nations, which is headquartered in New York.
"We have an agreement with the United Nations to allow people to come to meet, and I suspect he will be here to meet at the United Nations," Bush said.
As host, the United States is obligated under U.N. rules to approve visas to foreign leaders irrespective of political considerations.
But, until now the administration had declined to say whether Ahmadinejad's visa request would be approved. Administration spokesmen were careful not to contradict statements from six former hostages who have identified Ahmadinejad as one of their captors.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said recently that denying his president a visa would be a "big mistake."
"If the Americans cannot host U.N. guests, then they do not deserve to have the U.N. headquarters in their country," he said, according to Iran's state-run news agency.
A decade ago, at the time of the U.N.'s 50th anniversary, the Clinton administration approved a visa for Cuban President Fidel Castro just a few days before he was due to give a speech at the U.N.
n Texas, Bush noted that the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board of directors expressed "serious concern" Thursday over Iran's resumption of nuclear activities that could lead to an atomic bomb.
"And that's a positive first step," he said.
IAEA diplomats said Tehran faced a September deadline to stop uranium conversion at a plant in central Iran.
The Iranians resumed work at the nuclear facility in Isfahan earlier this week, despite appeals from European negotiators to maintain a voluntary suspension of nuclear activities.
On Iraq, Bush reiterated that the United States sees no reason that a committee working to draft a new national constitution cannot finish its work by a Monday deadline.
"I'm operating on the assumption that it will be agreed upon by August the 15th," Bush said. He acknowledged the drafters have a difficult task to accommodate regional, religious and traditional concerns, but applied some subtle pressure nonetheless.
"Hopefully, the drafters of the constitution understand our strong belief that women ought to be treated equally in the Iraqi society," Bush said.
The president said he has made no decision on whether to increase or decrease U.S. troop levels in Iraq, although he noted that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is looking at whether to add troops at the time of the next scheduled Iraqi elections in December.
Adding troops during previous elections in Iraq and Afghanistan "seemed to have helped create security," Bush said.
This program aired on August 11, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.