President Bush today sought to calm the tempest stirred by his inauguration speech, insisting that his quest to end tyranny abroad would not prevent him from working toward "practical objectives" with governments that don't meet American ideals.
During a White House press conference, Bush said he would push foreign leaders to reform, but stopped short of declaring such reforms are his foremost goal of U.S. relations with other countries.
"I don't think foreign policy is an either-or proposition," Bush said. "I think it is possible, when you're a nation like the United States, to accomplish both objectives."
The president's inaugural remarks last Thursday aroused fears — including among some prominent conservatives — that the campaign to "spread freedom around the world" meant an aggressive new campaign to reshape foreign governments.
Last Friday, a senior White House aide summoned reporters to clarify that Bush's remarks did not represent a change in policy. On Saturday, the president's father, former President George H.W. Bush, made a highly unusual appearance in the White House pressroom to emphasize that his son's words did not mean "new aggression or newly asserted military forces."
President George W. Bush told reporters today that "I firmly planted the flag of liberty for all to see, that the United States of America hears their concerns and believes in their aspirations."
But he added that he expected that progress toward the goal would be slow — "the work of generations." He pointed out that the United States itself was "a work in progress," and that "all people weren't treated equally for a century."
Bush's address raised questions about whether the president intended new pressure on major powers with human rights records deemed deficient in the West, such as Russia, China, Egypt and Pakistan.
Bush said he had reminded Russian President Vladimir Putin of the need for Western values. He said that while he wanted to work with China to disarm North Korea, he would also push the Chinese to reform.
"I will constantly remind them of the benefits of a society that honors their people and respects human rights and human dignity," he said.
And he asserted that he had brought up the goals of the Dalai Lama, and the Catholic Church, in discussions with Beijing.
Bush insisted that the speech represented no change in policy, but "a way forward."
"I think America is at its best when it leads toward an ideal, and certainly a world without tyranny is an ideal world," he said. "And so I look forward to leading the world in that direction for the next four years."
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