President Bush repeated his pledge that he'll veto any congressional war-funding bills that stipulate a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq.
Earlier this week, the U.S. House, followed by the Senate, passed war-funding bills that call for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq to begin later this year, American Forces Press Service reports.
"I haven't vetoed the first (House) bill yet, but I'm going to," Bush said to reporters with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his side during a news conference at the presidential compound at Camp David, Md. "And, the reason why I'm going to is because the members of Congress have made military decisions on behalf of the military."
Bush steadfastly maintains that military decisions fall under his purview as commander in chief of the armed forces, while also emphasizing that any withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq before the new Iraqi government can firmly establish itself would hurt military morale and put America in jeopardy.
"And, if the Congress wants to test my will as to whether or not I'll accept a timetable for withdrawal, I won't accept one," Bush said. "I just don't think it's in the interest of our troops."
In mid-February, additional American and Iraqi security forces began to deploy into Baghdad and western Iraq to tamp down insurgent-staged violence enough to provide a window of opportunity for the Iraqi government to get onto its feet. The deployment of U.S. forces into Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq as part of the surge is expected to be completed by June, according to U.S. military officials.
The recent congressional legislation calls for "withdrawing ( U.S. forces) before we've even finished reinforcing our troops in Baghdad," Bush said. "They're sending, in my judgment, a bad message to the Iraqis and to our enemy, and, most importantly, to our military folks."
Bush said it was unfortunate that the Iraq issue "has evolved the way it has" on Capitol Hill. Nonetheless, the president emphasized that he's sticking to his guns, and will veto any war-funding legislation calling for an early withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
"And, my veto will be sustained," the president told reporters.
Bush first noted at the news conference that he and the first lady had enjoyed dinner last evening with Prime Minister Abe and his wife, Akie.
After private discussions with the senior Japanese minister, Bush told reporters that the alliance between the United States and Japan "has never been stronger." Japan is the second-largest donor to the people of Iraq and it's the third-largest donor to the Afghan people, Bush pointed out.
"And, I thank you Shinzo, and I thank the people of Japan for helping these young democracies survive in a troubled world," Bush said. "I firmly believe that we're helping lay a foundation for peace for generations to come."
Abe said Japan "understands and supports U.S. efforts for the stabilization and reconstruction in Iraq, and Japan will carry on its own efforts to this same end."
The U.S.-Japan relationship "is rooted in common values, especially our commitment to freedom and democracy," Bush said, noting that he and Abe discussed possibilities for future partnership between their countries.
The two senior statesmen also "spent a lot of time talking about North Korea and our mutual desire for North Korea to meet its obligations," Bush said, referring to North Korea's pledge to jettison its nuclear weapons program.
Diplomacy is the best and wisest way to persuade North Korean leader Kim Jong Il that it's in his country's best interests to get rid of the nuclear weapons program, Bush said.
"It's his choice to make ultimately, not our choice, as to whether he honors the agreement he agreed to," Bush said of Kim Jong Il's role in negotiations over his country's nuclear weapons program.
The United States and its allies hope that Kim makes "the right choice for his country," Bush said. But, North Korea cannot continue to stall, the president pointed out.
"We've got a strategy to make sure that the pressure we have initially applied is even greater. That's our plan," Bush said.