With President Bush’s second inauguration just three days away, NBC's David Gregory sat down with the president at the White House. This is a transcript of their conversation as it aired on "NBC Nightly News."
David Gregory: Mr. President, I'd like to start with Iraq. In less than half the country election workers are able to actually prepare for the vote because of security problems. Sunni participation turnout is expected to be very low because of intimidation. If in fact that happens will this not be a victory for the insurgents?
President Bush: No. David, I think having the vote is a victory for those of us who love freedom, including the people in Iraq. And you're right, they're staying away because of fear, not because they don't want to vote, but because of fear. But the fact that there's a vote is fantastic.
Gregory: Even if there's very low turnout?
Bush: Well, we'll see, but obviously it's the notion that people are given a chance to vote. And when it happens America will be more secure for the long run.
Gregory: It's clear, sir, there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Do you think that the word of the United States is still good enough around the world for you or future presidents to ever again launch a preventative or pre-emptive military strike?
Bush: Well, you might remember that the intelligence that we used was close to the intelligence that the U.N. had about Saddam Hussein and that many countries had about Saddam Hussein. But we did find out that he had the intent and the capability of making weapons, which in my judgment still made him a dangerous man, and the world understood how dangerous Saddam Hussein was.
Gregory: Could you ever do it again, though?
Bush: Well, hopefully we don't have to, but if we had to to protect America, if, you know, if all else failed and we needed to use force to protect the citizens of the United States, I would do so.
Gregory: About Iran, will you rule out the potential for military action against Iran if it continues to stonewall the international community about the existence of its nuclear weapons program?
Bush: I hope we can solve it diplomatically, but I will never take any option off the table.
Gregory: I’d like to ask you about a campaign promise you made, which was to fight for a ban, a constitutional ban, on gay marriage. Yet you've told the Washington Post that that's something that you no longer plan to push for. Why shouldn't that be seen as not a campaign promise but a campaign stunt?
Bush: There's a certain reality to dealing with the Congress. Yes, I'll push for it. Yes, I'm still for it. I just want people to understand that there's a mentality on the Hill that says the way things are fine now, in other words, states are protected from the decisions of one state to the next because of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Gregory: Let me ask you about Social Security. You said this past week, speaking to younger workers, that they have to imagine a system that is "flat bust," your words. Democrats call that a scare tactic.
Bush: My point was, why don't we fix it now because I know the longer we wait the harder it is to fix it. And I'm interested in working with Congress on all different ideas. I just happen to believe personal savings accounts will be, you know, an important part of encouraging ownership.
Gregory: You're not afraid this is like Clinton trying to take on health care?
Bush: Well, you know, I'm obviously not afraid to take on big issues, and I think that's what the people want from their president.
Gregory: Mr. President, what's going to go through your mind Thursday morning?
Bush: I think I'll have a different perspective this time. I think I'll feel like I'll be participant and observer. I look forward to soaking in much more of the atmosphere and the environment. It will be a proud moment. It's a good speech. I'm looking forward to giving it. It speaks to the values and hopes of our country, and I guess the best way to summarize it is: Freedom is powerful.
Gregory: We'll be there, Mr. President. Thank you.
NBC News will provide live coverage of the inauguration on Thursday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. ET on your local NBC station. You can also watch round-the-clock coverage on MSNBC-TV.
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