Washington President Bush took personal responsibility for the first time Wednesday for using discredited intelligence in his State of the Union address, but predicted he would be vindicated for going to war against Iraq. He also warned of possible new al-Qaida attacks, possibly involving airlines.
"The threat is a real threat," Bush said.
Bush used his first solo news conference since before the start of the Iraq war to urge patience in the transformation of Iraq.
Bush accepted blame for his Jan. 28 State of the Union claim that Saddam Hussein was shopping for nuclear materials in Africa.
"I take personal responsibility for everything I say, absolutely," he said. Previously, he let CIA Director George Tenet and a national security aide take blame for the controversy.
In an hourlong session with reporters, Bush said that his three successive tax cuts had enhanced the nation's economic security while the war in Iraq was contributing to stability in the Middle East and a safer world.
Still, Bush said, "The war on terror goes on, as I continually remind people."
Asked about a day-old Department of Homeland Security warning of the possibility of hijackings -- followed by word of increased screening of certain overseas passengers -- Bush said: "The threat is a real threat."
He said his administration was coordinating its efforts with foreign governments and airlines.
He offered few details, but said, "We do know that al-Qaida tends to use the methodologies that worked in the past. That's kind of their mind-set. And we have got some data that indicates that they would like to use flights, international flights, for example."
"We're focusing on the airline industry right now. And we've got reason to do so. And I'm confident we will thwart the attempts."
Bush said the deaths of Saddam Hussein's two sons last week would bring "changes in attitudes in Iraq" and reinforce the reality that his government is "gone forever."
"I don't know how close we are to getting Saddam Hussein," he added. "You know -- it's closer than it was yesterday, I guess. All I know is we're on the hunt."
As for the continuing attacks on U.S. troops, Bush appealed for patience at home as Iraqis try to form a new, free society. "I didn't expect Thomas Jefferson to emerge in Iraq in a 90-day period," he said.
Turning to North Korea, Bush said he had spoken to Chinese President Hu Jintao earlier Wednesday as "part of an ongoing process to encourage him to stay involved" in pressuring Pyongyang to abandon nuclear-weapons ambitions.
Fielding a wide range of questions, Bush also:
l Insisted the federal budget would have gone from surplus to deficit on his watch even without his tax cuts. He blamed recession, terror attacks, corporate scandals and increased war and homeland-security spending. "We had a lot of obstacles to overcome," he said, "but I'm optimistic about the future, and I believe you'll see more jobs created."
l Defended efforts to raise at least $170 million for a primary election next year in which he faces no GOP opponent and suggested he'd find ways to spend it. "Watch me," he said.
l Renewed his commitment to spending $15 billion over five years to combat AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean.
l Said sending U.S. troops into Liberia was still contingent on President Charles Taylor's stepping aside and the establishment of a cease-fire that can hold. Then, "the troop strength will be limited and the time frame will be limited," he said.