Bush hails Iraq vote as victory for those who oppose terrorism

President George W. Bush on Sunday said Iraqis' vote on a new constitution was a victory for opponents of terrorism.

"The vote today in Iraq is in stark contrast to the attitude, the philosophy and strategy of al-Qaida, and its terrorist friends and killers," the president said as he arrived at the White House after a weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat.

"Al-Qaida wants to use their violent ways to stop the march to progress," the president said. "We believe and the Iraqis believe that the best way forward is through the democratic process."

Bush congratulated Iraqis for successfully completing the balloting, saying that by all indications the turnout _ and Sunni participation _ was greater than in the last election early this year, and that there was less violence.

After months of difficult negotiations over the proposed constitution, the president grabbed the opportunity to speak to what he said is an important step for the Middle Eastern nation.

The United States is hoping the constitution, if approved, will build confidence in the new government among minority Sunni Arabs and sap support for the insurgency. Eventually, political stability would enable the 150,000 U.S. troops to begin to withdraw.

In London, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that violence will continue in Iraq even if the new constitution is approved. She said that support for the insurgency will wane as the country moves toward democracy.

"I have no doubt that the terrorists are going to continue to try to derail the political process, but they've failed every time they've tried to derail it," Rice said before flying home from a weeklong trip to Central Asia and Europe.

"If we leave prematurely, we will have failed in what our goal is here, which is to have a different kind of Middle East" that is not a source of violent extremism, Rice said.

On another Middle East issue, Rice ruled out for now any direct negotiations between the U.S. and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program.

"We're listening to them, but as far as broad-scale U.S. involvement in talks, I don't at this point see that that would be productive," Rice said, AP reported. V.A.

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