Bush to Discuss Iraq at News Conference

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04-13-04 WASHINGTON - President Bush will use the first 12 minutes of his prime-time news conference to reassure the nation about rising casualties and instability in Iraq. "A lot has been happening in Iraq," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Tuesday in previewing what the president will say before taking questions at the 12th news conference of his presidency. "The president wants to give the American people an update on Iraq and talk about the way forward." This is the third time Bush has used television prime time to hold a news conference. It was scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m. EDT. "The president believes this is a good time to provide the American people with an update," McClellan said, adding that he expects the president also will address the recent violence in Iraq. "This is an opportunity when we can reach many Americans." White House communications director Dan Bartlett said Monday that the president also is prepared to address questions about a memo, titled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in U.S.," that he received on Aug. 6, 2001, as part of the President's Daily Brief. McClellan said the White House was considering letting the CIA analyst who wrote the Aug. 6 memo meet with the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks. Both Iraq and the administration's response to the pre-Sept. 11 memo that warned of threats from al-Qaida are crucial to Bush's re-election strategy, which promotes the president's record on national security. With the Sept. 11 commission hearings and the recent battles in Iraq being broadcast into American homes, this is a good time for Bush to defend his policies, said Stephen Hess, a political analyst at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution. "This is an administration that gets in trouble because it doesn't speak up in a timely way and defend itself," Hess said. The news conference is "really quite necessary," he said. At his Texas ranch on Monday, Bush deflected questions about the presidential memo, telling reporters that if the FBI had known about an imminent terrorist attack against America, the agency would have told him. Still, he added that now might be the time to "revamp and reform our intelligence services." To questions about whether the security situation in Iraq was untenable, Bush replied, "The situation in Iraq has improved." The president's upbeat assessment was based on a fragile cease-fire in Fallujah. The predominantly Sunni Muslim city west of Baghdad has been the site of fighting between insurgents and American troops after a mob mutilated the bodies of American security contractors killed in a March 30 ambush. U.S. troops have killed about 700 insurgents across Iraq since the beginning of the month. About 70 coalition troops — almost all Americans — have died in clashes. Another U.S. soldier died in Iraq Monday after gunmen attacked a large convoy of troops headed toward Najaf. Two other soldiers and an American civilian contractor were also wounded in the attack, officers in the convoy said Tuesday. "A civil society, a peaceful society can't grow with people who are willing to kill in order to stop progress," Bush said. "And our job is to provide security for the Iraqi people so that a transition can take place." Vice President Dick Cheney said in Tokyo on Tuesday that the administration soon would announce its choice as U.S. ambassador to the new Iraqi government. Paul Bremer has been the chief American civilian official in Baghdad, running the provisional authority there. Karlyn Bowman, who does research on public opinion and politics at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, said Bush knows there is widespread anxiety throughout the United States about the situation in Iraq. "He has to convey being in charge and having a clear plan of what's ahead," Bowman said. "And I'm sure he will express compassion for the families" of those killed in the fighting. "I think on 9-11, the president has to reiterate that they would have done much more if they would have had specific information," she said, adding that most Americans were not anxiously waiting to read the memo, which was declassified and released on Saturday. "I'm still not sure the public is in the mood to point the finger."