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Bush encourages US to eat beef despite mad cow concerns

FALFURRIAS, Texas -- President Bush shot quail on a hunting trip yesterday but ate beef, and encouraged Americans to do the same despite concern over mad cow disease. "I think I shot five," Bush told reporters at Brooks County Airport after returning from the hunt with his father on a dusty, desolate stretch of land in southern Texas.

The president said Americans should feel comfortable eating beef while Agriculture Department officials try to prevent any mad cow outbreak after an infected Holstein was found in Washington state.

Bush offered no opinion on Attorney General John Ashcroft's decision this week to remove himself from an investigation into whether someone in the Bush administration leaked the name of a CIA agent.

"I'm not involved in the investigation in any way, shape, or form," Bush said.

Bush also said he was pleased the government of Iran allowed the United States to provide humanitarian aid after the devastating earthquake in Bam.

Addressing the broader issue of US-Iranian relations, Bush said Tehran must be open to the views of democratic forces, abandon the development of nuclear weapons, and fight terrorism.

"The Iranian government must listen to the voices who long for freedom," he said.

Bush said his New Year's resolution is to strengthen his knee, to alleviate the pain that has curtailed his jogging regimen.

His hunting trip with his father, George H.W. Bush, friends, and members of the president's staff ran behind schedule from the start. Rain and fog forced the president to drive from his ranch in Crawford to an airport near Waco, where he boarded one of the smaller jets in the presidential fleet of aircraft that serve as Air Force One. Fog forced pilots of one of the three planes in the presidential entourage to circle the tiny airport twice before landing.

Emerging from his plane in a tan canvas coat, black jeans, and brown boots, Bush strode across the wet tarmac toward Spanish-speaking residents who live in the area, about 70 to 80 miles north of the Mexican border.

"Como estas?" said Bush, which is Spanish for "how are you?"

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