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Criticism stalking Bush overseas

Traveling in Asia, he's found no respite from Iraq

BUSAN, South Korea — President Bush on Saturday swatted down calls in Congress for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, saying that American military leaders believe that retreat now would be "a recipe for disaster."

"So we will fight the terrorists in Iraq, and we will stay in the fight until we have achieved the victory our brave troops have fought and bled for," said Bush, facing mounting criticism from home about his war policy.

Bush defended his Iraq strategy in remarks prepared for a speech at Osan Air Base, headquarters for the 7th Air Force, the primary U.S. Air Force unit in Korea. He was to stop there on his way to China.

Traveling in Asia, Bush has found no respite from Iraq. He's had to deal with an Iraq rebuff from a friend, South Korea, and with turmoil over his policies back home.

"In Washington there are some who say that the sacrifice is too great, and they urged us to set a date for withdrawal before we have completed our mission," the president said. "Those who are in the fight know better."

Back home, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a prominent defense hawk, called for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq over six months. In a speech Thursday, Murtha said, "Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces, and we have become a catalyst for violence. The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion."

In his remarks, Bush said that a senior commander in Iraq, Maj. Gen. William Webster, had said that setting a deadline for withdrawal would be "a recipe for disaster."

"And as long as I am commander in chief, our strategy in Iraq will be driven by the sober judgment of our military commanders on the ground," the president said.

Bush was wrapping up a three-day visit here by attending the closing meetings of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. He also held talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the leader of the world's most populous Islamic nation which is a U.S. ally in the war on terror. On this trip, Bush has held up Indonesia — along with Malaysia, whose leader he also met with on the sidelines of the summit — as an example of Asia's newer democracies that nations like China should follow.

Bush and Yudhoyono shook hands and posed for pictures but said nothing publicly as they began talks ranging from last December's tsunami in the Indian Ocean, recent deadly terror blasts in Bali and a steadily rising caseload of bird flu outbreaks in Indonesia, where two more human deaths were reported Thursday.

As APEC leaders conferred on Friday, riot police sprayed rock-throwing protesters with high-powered water hoses about 1,500 feet from the summit venue. At least one person was arrested and 11 officers were injured, police said.

Some 4,000 protesters, led by farmers angry about plans to open up South Korea's rice market, joined the march. A river separated the demonstration from the summit, which wasn't interrupted.

Bush on Friday also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and told him the United States supports a proposal from Moscow that could deny Iran the ability to produce nuclear weapons.

"It may provide a way out," National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said of the Russian plan, which was discussed during an hourlong meeting Bush and Putin had on a variety of difficult topics.

Putin often is criticized in the West for rolling back democratic progress by imposing state control of national broadcasters, scrapping elections for regional governors, and dismantling the Yukos oil company giant after its former chief executive officer opposed the Russian leader.

U.S. officials' concerns have grown with the introduction of legislation last week in Russia's State Duma by members of Putin's party that would keep foreign non-governmental organizations from operating offices in Russia and deny foreign funds to Russian organizations that engage in certain political activities.

Russia, a key Iranian ally, has refused to support Bush's eagerness to go to the U.N. Security Council to respond to suspicions that Iran is trying to build a nuclear arsenal. Also, over U.S. objections, Russia is building a nuclear reactor for a power plant in Iran and says it believes Iran's assurances the plant is for civilian energy use alone.

But Bush praised Putin for several steps Russia has taken that "would reduce the proliferation risks" in Iran, Hadley said.

Russia has helped bring Tehran back into European-led negotiations over its enrichment of uranium and reached agreement with Iran that any spent fuel rods from the plant would be sent back to Russia. And Bush expressed support for a Russian plan that would allow Iran to convert uranium but would move the enrichment process to a facility to be built for Iran in Russia, Hadley said.

In theory, that would deny Iran the capacity to produce weapons-grade uranium needed for nuclear weapons.

Though Iran has "not surprisingly" so far rejected the idea, Hadley said: "We think that doesn't end it. This will be an issue we will return to."