June 1, 2005

Bush Hints He Will Withhold Other Papers on Bolton


WASHINGTON, May 31 - President Bush criticized Senate Democrats on Tuesday for "stalling" a vote on John R. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations, and indicated that he would not grant them access to intelligence documents they have demanded to see before allowing the confirmation to go ahead.

Mr. Bush's statements, at a news conference in the Rose Garden, suggested that he was intent on winning the battle over Mr. Bolton on his own terms when the Senate reconvenes next week, rather than negotiating a deal with Democrats and some Republicans who have been advocating a compromise.

Democrats delayed a vote on the nomination on Thursday night, saying they wanted access to classified information about Mr. Bolton's conduct that the administration has refused for weeks to provide.

"Now in terms of the requests for the documents, I view that as just another stall tactic," Mr. Bush said, "another way to delay, another way not to allow Bolton to get an up or down vote."

Democrats gave no indication they would back down. "Mr. Bolton's fate lies with the president," said Jim Manley, the spokesman for Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader. "If he agrees to turn over the requested information about his nominee, then Mr. Bolton will get his up or down vote. The Senate is entitled to the information. It's really that simple."

President Bush's comments came on the day the White House and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice marked the second anniversary of the White House program to slow nuclear proliferation, in which Mr. Bolton was a key player. The targets of the program include North Korea, Iran and Syria.

Mr. Bush said, "We've got a lot of work to do with the North Korean," apparently referring to Kim Jong Il, the president, "because he tends to ignore what the other five nations are saying at times." The United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia have been engaged in more than two years of talks aimed at persuading the North to end its nuclear arms program.

He added at another point: "It's either diplomacy or military. And I am for the diplomacy approach."

Mr. Bush, whose poll numbers have been slipping as he faces difficulties with his agendas at home and abroad, used the news conference to try to regain the initiative. He hailed what he called a strong economy, and called on Congress to act soon to pass his energy bill, approve a free-trade agreement with Central America, hold down the growth in government spending and move ahead to remake the Social Security system.

"Again, things don't happen instantly in Washington, D.C.," he said, dismissing a question about whether he had lost momentum.

Asked how he would select a nominee for the Supreme Court, Mr. Bush sounded as if he expected to make such a selection, though he did not allude specifically to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who has been under treatment for thyroid cancer. He said that he was "obviously going to spend a lot of time reviewing the records of a variety of people," and that he looked forward "to talking to members of the Senate about the Supreme Court process."

On foreign policy, he said that he was pleased with the progress being made in Iraq, despite the recent surge of violence there, and that Britain, France and Germany were making progress in persuading Iran to abandon its nuclear program. He reiterated his commitment to seeking a diplomatic solution with North Korea over its nuclear activities, and dismissed as "absurd" a new report from Amnesty International, the human rights monitoring organization, that the United States had established a "gulag" at Guantánamo Bay and "thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights."

The United States, he said, "promotes freedom around the world" and fully investigates allegations of improper behavior toward prisoners in a transparent way. The Amnesty International report, Mr. Bush said, struck him as being based in part on "allegations by people who were held in detention, people who hate America."

He said the United States would be "watching the ongoing case" of Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the Russian oil company executive who was convicted Tuesday and sentenced to nine years in prison in a fraud and tax case that was widely seen as an effort by the Kremlin to intimidate a potential rival to President Vladimir V. Putin. Mr. Bush offered no criticism of Mr. Putin, and said the focus by the United States would be on "how the appeal will be handled."

Asked about the killings of scores of people this month by government forces in Uzbekistan, an American ally in the fight against terrorism, Mr. Bush said he expected all nations "to honor human rights and protect minority rights."

He said he had asked the Red Cross to investigate what had happened there, but stopped short of criticizing the government of President Islam A. Karimov.

The 51-minute session with reporters was the latest in a string of monthly news conferences Mr. Bush has held since Election Day.

He dodged or deflected a number of questions, like whether he would be willing to back off his call for investment accounts in Social Security if doing so would lead to a bipartisan agreement. He deviated little from his standard responses on a variety of issues, including Iraq. Asked whether the increase in violence meant the insurgency was getting more lethal, he pronounced himself "pleased with the progress" in Iraq, including the installation of a democratic government; expressed confidence in the ability of the Iraqis to develop their own security; and said the insurgents were being driven to greater violence by the prospect of seeing democracy take root.

Mr. Bush said the relationship between the United States and China was "very complex," and "Americans ought to view it as such." He said that Americans ought to look at China as "an economic opportunity," but that Beijing had to be pressed at times to abide by international trade rules and to take a role as a partner in efforts to deal with North Korea and battle terrorism.