(CNSNews.com) - President Bush, at his first full-scale press conference since November, told reporters at the White House on Wednesday he doesn't know how close the U.S. is to capturing Saddam Hussein: "Closer than we were yesterday, I guess -- all I know is we're on the hunt," he said.
President Bush said slowly but surely, the U.S. is making progress in bringing those who terrorize their fellow citizens to justice.
Asked about reports that terrorists may attempt more airline hijackings - perhaps by the end of the summer - President Bush said the American people should continue to be diligent when boarding aircraft.
"Obviously we're talking to foreign governments and foreign airlines to indicate the reality of the threat," he said.
"We're focusing on the airline industry right now, and we've got reason to do so, and I'm confident that we will thwart the attempts."
According to a warning sent to airlines and law enforcement agencies over the weekend, "The hijackers may try to calm passengers and make them believe they were on a hostage, not suicide, mission," wire reports said. "The hijackers may attempt to use common items carried by travelers, such as cameras, modified as weapons."
President Bush repeated that the U.S. is doing a good job of dismantling the al Qaeda leadership. "We've got more to do," he said, "and the American people need to know we're not stopping."
The president defended his National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, when a reporter asked him if he "takes responsibility" for a controversial sentence in his State of the Union address.
The president said he "analyzed a thorough body of intelligence...that led me to come to the conclusion that it was necessary to remove Saddam Hussein from power."
He noted that 12 times, the United Nations Security Council passed resolutions, which also recognized the threat posed by the regime of Saddam Hussein.
"There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States security and a threat to peace in the region. And there's no doubt in my mind that a free Iraq is important. It's got strategic consequences."
Defending his national security adviser, Bush said, "Dr. Condoleezza Rice is an honest, fabulous person and America is lucky to have her service - period," he said emphatically.
Asked how he can spend "$170 million or more on your primary campaign," President Bush quipped, "Just watch."
He admitted that in the months ahead, he'll spend some time fund-raising and campaigning, but right now, he said, he has a lot of work to do - to make America more secure.
"Every day I am reminded that our nation is still vulnerable," the president said.
On other topics, the president once again refused to make public 28 pages from a congressional investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks. The pages in question reportedly suggest that Saudi government officials knowingly aided the al Qaeda terrorist network.
"At some point in time, as we make progress on the investigaton and as the threat to our national security diminishes, perhaps we can put out the document," Bush said on Wednesday. "But in my judgment, now is not the time to do so."
He reminded reporters that he's in charge of fighting the war on terror, and he won't reveal the sources and methods that will compromise U.S. efforts to succeed.
The president began his press conference with a statement on the strategic importance of a free and peaceful Iraq -- something that is critical to the stability of the Middle East, and by extension, to the security of the American people.
"As the blanket of fear is lifted -- as Iraqis gain confidence that the former regime is gone forever-- we will gain more cooperation in our search for the truth in Iraq," Bush said.
"We know that Saddam Hussein produced and possessed chemical and biological weapons...he also spent years hiding his weapons of mass of destruction programs from the world. We now have teams of investigators who are hard at work. The success of a free Iraq will also demonstrate to other countries in that region that national prosperity and dignity are found in representative government and free institutions."
"As freedom advances in the Middle East, those societies will be less likely to produce ideologies of hatred and produce recruits for terror," Bush said.
In his statement, the president also said he's focused on "economic security," and he predicted that over time, faster growth in the economy will yield new jobs. The unemployment rate is still too high, he admitted, "and we will not rest until Americans looking for work can find a job."
He called on Congress to pass a "sound energy bill," and he called for legal reforms that will cut down on frivolous lawsuits.
The president is planning to go to his Texas ranch on Saturday, Aug. 2, for a full month of vacation, punctuated by various trips to different parts of the country.
He'll leave on Saturday, after having his annual physical at Bethesda Naval Hospital.