Undaunted by the difficult war in Iraq, US President George Bush today reaffirmed his strike-first policy against terrorists and enemy nations and said Iran may pose the biggest challenge for America.
In a 49-page national security report, the president said diplomacy is the US preference in halting the spread of nuclear and other heinous weapons.
"The president believes that we must remember the clearest lesson of September 11: that the United States of America must confront threats before they fully materialise," national security adviser Stephen Hadley said.
"The president's strategy affirms that the doctrine of pre-emption remains sound and must remain an integral part of our national security strategy," Hadley said. "If necessary, the strategy states, under long-standing principles of self defence, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack."
Titled "National Security Strategy," the report summarises Bush's plan for protecting America and directing US relations with other nations. It is an updated version of a report Bush issued in 2002.
In the earlier report a year after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush underscored his administration's adoption of a pre-emptive policy, marking the end of a deterrent military strategy that dominated the Cold War.
The latest report makes it clear Bush hasn't changed his mind, even though no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.
"When the consequences of an attack with weapons of mass destruction are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialise. ... The place of pre-emption in our national security strategy remains the same," Bush wrote.
The report had harsh words for Iran. It accused the regime of supporting terrorists, threatening Israel and disrupting democratic reform in Iraq. Bush said diplomacy to halt Tehran's suspected nuclear weapons work must prevail to avert a conflict.
"This diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided," Bush said.
He did not say what would happen if international negotiations with Iran failed. The Bush administration currently is working to persuade Russia and China to support a proposed UN Security Council resolution demanding that Iran end its uranium enrichment program.
"We are, I think, beginning to get indications that the Iranians are finally beginning to listen, and there is beginning to be a debate within the leadership -- and I would hope a debate between the leadership and their people -- about whether the course they're on is the right course for the good of their country," Hadley said. "That has only come about because they have heard a co-ordinated message from the international community. It has been difficult to hold together."
A top Iranian official said today that his country was ready to open direct talks with the United States over Iraq, marking a major shift in Tehran's foreign policy a day after an Iraqi leader called for such talks. Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator and secretary of the country's Supreme National Security Council, told reporters that any talks between the United States and Iran would deal only with Iraqi issues.
Bush also had tough words for North Korea, which he said poses a serious nuclear proliferation challenge, counterfeits US currency, traffics in narcotics, threatens its neighbours and starves its people.
"The North Korean regime needs to change these polices, open up its political system and afford freedom to its people," Bush said. "In the interim, we will continue to take all necessary measures to protect our national and economic security against the adverse effects of their bad conduct."
Bush issued rebukes to Russia and China and called Syria a tyranny that harbours terrorists and sponsors terrorist activity.
On Russia, Bush said recent trends show a waning commitment to democratic freedoms and institutions. "Strengthening our relationship will depend on the policies, foreign and domestic, that Russia adopts," he said.
The United States also is nudging China down a road of reform and openness.
"China's leaders must realize, however, that they cannot stay on this peaceful path while holding on to old ways of thinking and acting that exacerbate concerns throughout the region and the world," Bush wrote.
He said these "old ways" include enlarging China's military in a non-transparent way, expanding trade, yet seeking to direct markets rather than opening them up, and supporting energy-rich nations without regard to their misrule or misbehaviour at home or abroad.
In 2002, when he sent his first report to Congress, Bush was struggling to persuade U.S. allies to join an offensive to topple Saddam Hussein.
Since then, the oppressive Taliban regime in Afghanistan was replaced by a freely elected government. In Iraq, citizens voted in the nation's first free election, a constitution was passed by referendum and nearly 12 million Iraqis elected a permanent government.
Challenges remain in Iraq, where sectarian violence threatens the fragile government and the U.S. death toll has topped 2,300.
The report is laden with strategies for advancing democracy across the globe, a theme of Bush's second inaugural address.
The president said his administration was advancing this goal by holding high-level meetings at the White House with democratic reformers in repressive nations; using foreign aid to support fair elections, women's rights and religious freedom; and pushing to abolish human trafficking.
Countering suggestions that he favours a go-it-alone approach to foreign policy, Bush emphasised multilateral problem-solving.
"Many of the problems we face -- from the threat of pandemic disease to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to terrorism, to human trafficking, to natural disasters -- reach across borders," he said.
"Effective multinational efforts are essential to solve these problems. Yet history has shown that only when we do our part will others do theirs. America must continue to lead."