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President Makes Policy Stand in Rose Garden

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

President Bush held a news conference this morning at the White House and sharply criticized a recent report from Amnesty International. That report called the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay `the Gulag of our times.' Mr. Bush also vowed to have patience as he continues to push for changes to Social Security. NPR's David Greene reports.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

It may not have been as hot as central Texas, where the president spends hours chopping brush, but the Rose Garden was warm enough to bring beads of sweat to the president's face as he stood talking to reporters for nearly an hour. By holding this event on the last day of May, the president maintained his recent record of one news conference per month. And, as has become customary, Social Security was a featured topic. Mr. Bush made it clear he knows it'll take time to build support for his ideas on Social Security, and he showed just how patient he could be when he chose this analogy.

(Soundbite of press conference)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: It's just like water cutting through a rock. It's just a matter of time, and we're just going to keep working and working and working, reminding the American people that we have a serious problem and a great opportunity to act not as politicians, but as statesmen and women to solve a problem.

GREENE: Mr. Bush has had his share of problems recently on Capitol Hill. There's been what he called a pushback from lawmakers on Social Security. The Senate has delayed voting on his nominee to be UN ambassador, John Bolton. Seven members of his own party struck a side deal on judgeship confirmations in the Senate, and many in both chambers have disagreed with him on the issue of stem cell research. Given all this, Mr. Bush was asked if he's worried about losing second-term momentum.

(Soundbite of press conference)

Pres. BUSH: I don't worry about anything here in Washington, DC. I mean, I feel comfortable in my role as the president, and my role in the president is to push for reform.

GREENE: And to defend administration policy. The latest harsh criticism has come from the human-rights group Amnesty International, which called US treatment of suspected terrorists at facilities such as Guantanamo Bay `a new version of the Soviet prisons and the Gulag.'

(Soundbite of press conference)

Pres. BUSH: It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of and the allegations by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that have been trained, in some instances, to disassemble. That means not tell the truth. And so it's an absurd report.

GREENE: The president also said the spike in violence in Iraq was a response to the progress that's been made towards building a government there.

(Soundbite of press conference)

Pres. BUSH: So what you're seeing is a group of frustrated and desperate people who kill innocent life. And, obviously, we mourn the loss of every life. But I believe the Iraqi government's going to be plenty capable of dealing with them, and our job is to help train them so that they can. I was heartened to see the Iraqi government announce 40,000 Iraqi troops are well-trained enough to help secure Baghdad.

GREENE: The president returned to Iraq near the end of the event when asked about a US Marine officer he quoted last week. Today the president said he agreed with the Marine that the mission in Iraq would someday be remembered as America's golden moment. David Greene, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.