WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush, in an interview published Friday with The New York Times, said he miscalculated post-war conditions in Iraq and that the long insurgency was the product of a "swift victory."
In what the daily said was the US president's first acknowledgement on the issue, Bush said he made a "miscalculation of what the conditions would be" in postwar Iraq.
He said the miscalculation was an unintended byproduct of a "swift victory," adding that Saddam Hussein's forces quickly went into hiding in Iraqi cities where they mounted a rebellion far faster than the Americans had anticipated.
The daily said Bush refused to go into detail on what went wrong, saying that it was a task best left to historians.
Bush said his policies on Iraq - where he fought a war despite strong international opposition - were "flexible enough" to respond to the insurgency. He added that even now "we're adjusting to our conditions," in places like the holy city of Najaf, where US and Iraqi forces have been battling the militias of Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr for weeks.
On North Korea and its alleged nuclear weapons ambitions, the daily said Bush took issue with his Democratic rival in the November 2 presidential election John Kerry, who argued that the US-led war in Iraq gave Pyongyang the opportunity to expand its nuclear capability.
"Showing none of the alarm about the North's growing arsenal that he once voiced regularly about Iraq," said the daily, Bush "opened his palms and shrugged" when asked about intelligence reports indicating that North Korea may now have the fuel to produce six or eight nuclear weapons.
Referring to North Korea and Iran, Bush said he would not set deadlines for countries to disarm. "I don't give timelines to dictators," Bush said speaking of North Korea's president, Kim Jong Il, and Iran's mullahs.
Bush said he would continue to put diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang through China, and on Iran through Europe, but gave no hint his patience was limited.
"I'm confident that over time this will work - I certainly hope it does," added the president.
He declined to compare North Korea to Iraq, saying that Iraq had defied the world community far longer that the other members of what he has termed "the axis of evil," which includes Iran.
Regarding the ongoing controversy over Vietnam veterans' television ads discrediting Kerry's war record, Bush repeated that Kerry "should be proud of his record," and that the ads were wrong to imply Kerry was hiding things: "No, I don't think he lied."
But he again refused to condemn the ads.
He said he had joined with his former rival, Senator John McCain, in a lawsuit to outlaw political interest groups known as 527's - named after a section of the US tax code - one of which is the anti-Kerry group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Bush was interviewed during a campaign stop in New Mexico, and was joined by his close adviser Karen Hughes, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and his press secretary Scott McClellan.
In a separate interview with USA Today daily on board the presidential airplane Air Force One, Bush expressed confidence he would win another term even if they disagree with his decision to go to war in Iraq.
"They've seen me make decisions, they've seen me under trying times, they've seen me weep, they've seen me laugh, they've seen me hug," he said.
"And they know who I am, and I believe they're comfortable with the fact that they know I'm not going to shift principles or shift positions based upon polls and focus groups."
Reminded about a comment his wife, Laura, made in a June interview to the effect that they would be "OK" even if they lost the election, Bush interrupted: "I have never said that ... because I am not going to come in second. We'll prevail.
"I don't think that way. I believe we're going to win."