IMAGE: President Bush
Susan Walsh  /  AP
President Bush kisses nine-month-old Liana Flores as her mother Jackie looks on after his arrival at Brooks County Airport in Falfurrias, Texas, on Thursday.
updated 1/1/2004 5:19:07 PM ET 2004-01-01T22:19:07

President Bush shot quail on a hunting trip Thursday but ate beef, and encouraged Americans to do the same despite concern over mad cow disease.

“I think I shot 5,” Bush told reporters at Brooks County Airport after returning from the hunt with his father on a dusty and desolate stretch of land in southern Texas.

The president said Americans should feel comfortable eating beef while Agriculture Department officials try to prevent any mad cow outbreak in the wake of the discovery of an infected Holstein in Washington state.

The president offered no opinion on Attorney General John Ashcroft’s decision to this week to remove himself from an investigation into whether someone in his administration leaked the name of a CIA agent.

“I’m not involved in the investigation in any way, shape or form,” the president said.

Bush said he was pleased the government of Iran allowed the United States to provide humanitarian aid following the devastating earthquake in Bam.

Addressing the broader issue of U.S.-Iranian relations, the president said Iran’s government must be open to the views of democratic forces, abandon nuclear weapons work and fight terrorism.

“The Iranian government must listen to the voices who long for freedom,” he said.

The president said his personal New Year’s resolution is to strengthen his knee, to alleviate the pain that has curtailed his exercise jogging.

His hunting trip with his father, George H.W. Bush, friends and members of the president’s staff ran behind schedule from the start. Rain and foggy weather forced the president to drive from his ranch in Crawford to an airport near Waco, where he boarded one of the smaller jets in the presidential fleet of aircraft that serve as Air Force One. Foggy weather forced pilots of one of the three planes in the presidential entourage to circle the tiny airport twice before landing.

Emerging from his plane in a tan canvas coat, black jeans and brown boots, Bush strode across the wet tarmac toward Spanish-speaking residents who live in the area, about 70 to 80 miles north of the Mexican border.

“Como estas?” he said, asking them how they were doing. As if in campaign mode, Bush held nine-month-old Liana Flores, who calmly sucked a red pacifier, kissed the baby, then turned to mug for the cameras.

As Secret Service officers stood on buildings, using binoculars to survey the pancake-flat countryside for possible threats, Bush hopped in his motorcade and drove to private property, named the El Tule Ranch. The 15-minute trip, past cows, ramshackle farm buildings, windmills and cactus, ended on a dusty road surrounded by scrubby vegetation.

The president also had lunch with his father and others, including U.S. envoy James A. Baker III, who was secretary of state in the administration of Bush’s father. Baker recently returned from a lobbying trip to Asia, part of his efforts to reduce Iraq’s massive foreign debts. After Baker visited Tokyo on Monday, Japan agreed to forgive most of its Iraqi debt if other major nations do so as well.

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