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Bush: N. Korea must face 'serious repercussions'

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- North Korea must be punished for its test of a nuclear device, but the United States has no intention of attacking the communist nation, President Bush said Wednesday.

"In response to North Korea's actions, we're working with our partners in the region and the United Nations Security Council to ensure there are serious repercussions for the regime in Pyongyang," Bush said during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden.

"Together we will ensure that North Korea understands the consequences if it continues down its current path," he said. (Watch Bush call North Korea a threat to peace regardless of whether it tested a nuke -- 2:34 Video)

Bush's remarks came as North Korea threatened Wednesday that any increased pressure from the United States will be considered "a declaration of a war." That statement came from a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman, according to state-run news agency KCNA.

Bush said the United States will respond to North Korea's reported Monday test by increasing its diplomatic efforts and bolstering regional allies' defenses, particularly in Japan and South Korea.

"The United States remains committed to diplomacy," Bush said. "The United States also reserves all options to defend our friends and our interests in the region against the threats from North Korea."

Numerous nations must get involved to show North Korean leader Kim Jong Il that "when he walks away from the agreement, he's not just walking away from the table with the United States as the only participant. He's walking away from a table that others are sitting at," Bush said. (Transcript)

Committed to staying in Iraq

Bush also addressed the war in Iraq, saying he is committed to his strategy, despite a recent suggestion from former Secretary of State James Baker that the U.S. approach in Iraq may have to change course soon.

"If we were to abandon that country before the Iraqis can defend their young democracy, the terrorists would take control of Iraq and establish a new safe haven from which to launch new attacks on America," the president said, rejecting the idea that U.S. troops should be pulled out of Iraq.

"We can't tolerate a new terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East with large oil reserves that could be used to fund its radical ambitions or used to inflict economic damage on the West," he said.

Bush also dismissed a Wednesday survey that states 655,000 Iraqis have died since the Iraq war began in 2003. The president said Gen. George Casey, the top-ranking U.S. military official in Iraq, told him the report lacks credibility. (Full story)

"The methodology is pretty well discredited," Bush said. (Watch Bush dispute the numbers in the survey -- 1:33)

Asked if he wanted to amend his own death toll, which was about 30,000 as of December, Bush declined.

"A lot of innocent people have lost their life," he said.

Bush said the violence in Iraq has spiked because of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, and because U.S. and Iraqi troops have more actively engaged insurgents there, especially in Baghdad.

U.S. troops have increased their presence in Baghdad, and "together with Iraqi forces, they're working to ensure that terrorists and death squads cannot intimidate the local population and operate murder rings." (Watch how U.S. troops are being injured at a grievous rate -- 2:14 Video)

Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday that "time is not on our side" in Iraq.

"We have to persuade, cajole the government of Iraq to take decisive steps that will show that they are now beginning to seize the initiative," Reed told reporters in Washington after returning from a visit to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Bush's news conference comes as he and the GOP see their poll numbers significantly dipping with less than four weeks before the November midterm elections. The GOP also is ensnared in the scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley's sexually explicit Internet exchanges with teen congressional pages.

A CNN poll this week that found 75 percent of Americans feel Republicans handled the Foley matter inappropriately. Americans also voiced their overall displeasure with the GOP.

Fifty-eight percent of likely voters said they plan to vote Democrat in November, compared to 37 percent who say they'll cast ballots for Republicans, according to the poll conducted by Opinion Research Corp. The 21-point gap was five points wider than it was in a CNN poll the week before. (Full story)

Other developments

• Bush said he was confident his party could retain control of the House and Senate in the November 7 elections. He said he expects voters to rally around Republicans because of economic strides that have added 6.6 million jobs since 2003 and pushed the unemployment rate to 4.6 percent. Security is another issue that will propel the GOP ahead in the polls, he said.

• Bush said that a $248 billion budget deficit for the fiscal year that ended in September marked a reduction by half in the deficit three years ahead of the schedule that he laid out in 2004. He attributed the figure to "pro-growth economic policies" that have restrained spending in Washington and allowed Americans to keep more of their income. (Full story)

President Bush said he supports U.N. sanctions against North Korea after it reportedly conducted a nuclear test.

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