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Bush touts beef amid Mad Cow concerns
( 2004-01-02 09:14) (Agencies)

U.S. President Bush shot quail on a hunting trip Thursday but dined on beef, and encouraged Americans to do the same despite concern over mad cow disease. "I ate beef today, and will continue to eat beef," he said.

Bush spent 10 minutes of New Year's Day answering questions from reporters about the first U.S. case of mad cow disease, postwar Iraq's struggle with debt and recent assassination attempts against the president of Pakistan. He shared one New Year's resolution: Strengthen his pained knee so he can start jogging again.

"When you hunt quail, you get a lot of exercise," Bush said at Brooks County Airport after returning from the hunt on dusty, desolate ranch land in southern Texas owned by a friend. "We walked a lot of territory, watched the dogs work and knocked down some birds.

"I think I shot five. I'm not that good a shot, but it was a lot of fun. It's a good way to start the new year outdoors (and) in my case, with my dad."

The president said Americans should feel safe 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 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 with 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. 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 of those who long for freedom, must turn over al-Qaeda that are in their custody and must abandon their nuclear weapons program," he said.

On another foreign issue, Bush said he did not think that two recent assassination attempts on the life of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf jeopardized the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Bush called Musharraf a "stand-up guy" in the war on terrorism. Terrorists are believed responsible for at least one attempt on his life.

"He (Musharraf) sounded very confident that his security forces would be able to deal with the threat," Bush said, recalling recent phone conversations he's had with Musharraf. "I feel confident about his security situation."

The president said his personal New Year's resolution is to rehabilitate his knee to alleviate pain that has curtailed his jogging. "I miss running," he said. "So that's one of my resolutions, which may require eating less desserts kind of getting a little trimmer to take the pressure off the knee."

Before the hunt, Bush was greeted at the airport by 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 9-month-old Liana Flores, who calmly sucked a red pacifier, kissed the baby, then turned to mug for the cameras.

After the hunt, the president 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 trip to Asia, part of his efforts to reduce Iraq's massive foreign debts. He's already been to Europe. Bush said Baker's next stop was the Middle East.

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