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WASHINGTON, Dec. 20- U.S. President George W. Bush touted progress in Iraq and Afghanistan Thursday morning, while summing up his job in 2007 at an year-end press conference at the White House.     “There is a functioning government,” Bush said, referring to the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which come under considerable criticism from various sides.

    But he said he is not happy with the political progress in Iraq.

    “Are we satisfied with the progress in Baghdad? No. But, to say nothing is happening is not the case,” Bush said.

    On Afghanistan, he said it “is a society that is evolving,” and there is demonstrable progress there.

    “Also, what’s important is the human condition, and I believe we’re making progress on both fronts,” he said.

    The president suggested that people were feeling better about their lives both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    When asked about Lebanon’s continuing political struggles and about whether he should speak directly to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Bush said, “my patience ran out on President Assad a long time ago .”

    “If he’s listening, he doesn’t need a phone call. He knows exactly what our position is,” he said.

    On domestic issues, reporters pressed Bush on Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) destruction of videotapes showing harsh interrogations of terror suspects.

    “I’m just going to prepare you — until the inquiries are complete, until the oversight is finished, I will be offering no opinion from the podium,” he said, repeating his position to keep mum on details of the issue.

    Bush also thanked the Congress for its work, including the approval of an energy bill and a modification of the alternative minimum tax.

    Passage of the energy bill “demonstrates America’s leadership” in dealing with climate change, he said.

    However, the president said he is disappointed that Congress used an omnibus bill rather approving a series of appropriations bills.

    Bush said Congress’ first goal should be to pass a new intelligence bill.

    He also refused to comment on the upcoming presidential elections in 2008.

    “I suspect my name may come up a lot,” Bush said, again promising to not comment on the elections until after the primaries are finished.

    “What the American people need to do is sort through the rhetoric and the reality.”

    Asked for his response to Russian President Vladimir Putin being named Time magazine’s Man of the Year, Bush said there are “reasons to be concerned” about Russia’s direction on a number of fronts.


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