By Nedra Pickler, Associated Press Writer
DONNELLY, Idaho (AP) - President Bush charged Tuesday that anti-war protesters like Cindy Sheehan who want troops brought home immediately do not represent the views of most U.S. military families and are "advocating a policy that would weaken the United States."
In brief remarks outside the resort where he is vacationing, Bush gave no indication that he would change his mind and meet with Sheehan after he returns to his Texas ranch Wednesday evening. Sheehan lost a son in Iraq and has emerged as a harsh critic of the war.
Sheehan has been maintaining a vigil outside Bush's ranch, a demonstration that has been joined by more and more other anti-war protesters.
Bush said that two high-ranking member of his staff already met with her earlier this month and that he met with her last year.
"I've met with a lot of families," Bush said. "She doesn't represent the view of a lot of families I have met with."
On Iraq, Bush said that a democratic constitution "is going to be an important change in the broader Middle East." Reaching an accord on a constitution after years of dictatorship is not easy, Bush said.
He spoke after the head of the committee drafting Iraq's constitution said Tuesday that three days are not enough to win over the minority Sunni Arabs, and the document they rejected may ultimately have to be approved by parliament as is and submitted to the people in a referendum.
Iraqi leaders completed a draft Monday night and submitted it to parliament by the midnight deadline, but delayed a vote for three days to give them time to convince Sunni Arab negotiators to accept it.
"The Iraqi people are working hard to reach a consensus on their constitution," Bush said, speaking outside the Tamarack Resort, in the mountains 100 miles north of Boise. "It's an amazing process to work. First of all, the fact that they're even writing a constitution is vastly different from living under the iron hand of a dictator."
Bush was asked about the possibility that objections to the constitution as it now stands from the Sunnis, the party of deposed leader Saddam Hussein, could trigger a civil war.
"The Sunnis have got to make a choice," Bush said. "Do they want to live in a society that's free? Or do they want to live in violence?"
He said he thought that most mothers, regardless of their religion, would prefer to live in peace rather than violence.
He congratulated Israeli President Ariel Sharon on the completion of the withdrawal of settlers from the Gaza Strip. And Bush praised him for making "a tough decision," saying the next step would be to establish a working government.
Bush, spending a day at the resort with Republican Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, said he was getting updates on the Iraqi constitutional process from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
He said Rice had assured him that the rights of women were being protected. "Democracy is unfolding," the president said. "We just cannot tolerate the status quo."
On Sheehan, the grieving mother who has camped near his ranch since Aug. 6, the president said he strongly supports her right to protest. "She expressed her opinion. I disagree with it," Bush said.
"I think immediate withdrawal from Iraq would be a mistake," he said. "I think those who advocate immediate withdrawal from not only Iraq but the Middle East are advocating a policy that would weaken the United States."
Bush has scheduled more than two hours to meet with family members of slain soldiers Wednesday at the Mountain Home Air Force Base near Boise.
Bush said he planned to go on a hike and have dinner later Tuesday with Kempthorne and the Idaho congressional delegation. Bush said he also planned to spend "quality time" with first lady Laura Bush, who is traveling with him.
Bush, who is seeking to quell growing criticism at home over the Iraq war, told the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Salt Lake City on Monday that "a policy of retreat and isolation will not bring us safety."
Bush made a rare reference of the U.S. military death toll - more than 2,000 killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
"We owe them something. We will finish the task that they gave their lives for ... by staying on the offensive against the terrorists, and building strong allies in Afghanistan and Iraq that will help us win and fight - fight and win the war on terror," he told the VFW convention.
Bush gives a second speech on the subject Wednesday when he addresses military families at the Mountain Home base.
Recent polls have shown growing public dissatisfaction with the president's handling of the war in Iraq in the face of a persistent insurgency and the mounting U.S. death toll. An AP-Ipsos poll taken earlier this month showed that the percentage of Americans who approve of Bush's handling of Iraq - a number that had been hovering in the low- to mid-40s most of the year - dipped to 38 percent.
Associated Press Writers Darlene Superville and John Miller contributed to this report.
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