CRAWFORD, Tex., Nov. 26 -- President Bush on Friday used his first comments about the disputed presidential election in Ukraine to warn authorities that the world is watching, but he struck a more conciliatory tone than Secretary of State Colin L. Powell used earlier in the week.
Bush's comments appeared to allow for the possibility that the Moscow-backed candidate's victory will stand, despite charges of fraud, and that the administration will have to work with him instead of his Western-leaning opponent.
Bush ventured off his ranch, where he is spending Thanksgiving week, to eat a cheeseburger (all the way) and onion rings at a local hangout and to spend five minutes bantering with reporters about world crises. He was asked what the consequences would be if Ukrainian authorities did not submit to international pressure to reconsider the results, and whether Russian President Vladimir Putin had overstepped his bounds by saying Western nations should stay out of the election.
"There's just a lot of allegations of vote fraud that placed their election -- the validity of their elections in doubt," Bush said. "The international community is watching very carefully. People are paying very close attention to this, and hopefully it will be resolved in a way that brings credit and confidence to the Ukrainian government."
That was a more restrained line than Powell took Wednesday, when he said the United States cannot accept the result as legitimate, called for an investigation into evidence of fraud and abuse, and spoke of "consequences for our relationship" if the Ukrainian government did not act responsibly.
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, supported by Putin, was declared the winner over Viktor Yushchenko, but amid street demonstrations, the country's highest court delayed the winner's inauguration until it could examine Yushchenko's complaint that the election was rigged.
The White House had also been harsher Tuesday in a written statement, issued in the name of deputy press secretary Claire Buchan, saying the United States was "deeply disturbed by extensive and credible indications of fraud committed in the Ukrainian presidential election" and calling on the government to "respect the will of the Ukrainian people."
On other topics during the short question-and-answer session, Bush disagreed with the call Friday by key Iraqi political parties for a six-month postponement of the election for national assembly members, which is scheduled for Jan. 30 and has been eagerly awaited by the White House as a sign democracy is taking hold.
"The Iraq election commission has scheduled elections in January, and I would hope they would go forward in January," Bush said.
Bush did not mention the bill stalled in Congress to create a national intelligence director and overhaul the nation's intelligence agencies, which House Republicans derailed last weekend. White House officials say that Bush still wants the bill passed by year's end, and insist that Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. has worked harder on the issue than any other before Congress.
But some Republican officials say Bush could have pushed more aggressively for it and contend that he could have muscled the rebellious Republicans if he wanted the bill badly enough. Administration officials said Bush will weigh in when his involvement will count most.
In a twist, Bush aides said Friday that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was wrong Wednesday when he said that the White House knew in advance about an Oct. 21 letter to Capitol Hill from Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arguing that the intelligence bill would hurt the Pentagon.
Rumsfeld's comment was taken on Capitol Hill as an example of the mixed signals the White House has been sending about how thoroughly it supports the plan to change the way intelligence is gathered, reported and used.
"It's possible that Secretary Rumsfeld believed that we had been aware of the letter prior to its being sent," said a White House official who refused to be named to avoid being seen as castigating a Cabinet member. "However, the case is that we learned of it when it was sent to Congress."
Appearing chipper, Bush jumped out of his black Chevrolet Suburban, adorned on the sides with the presidential seal, and met reporters in the parking lot of the Coffee Station, a gas station and diner. First lady Laura Bush and her mother, Jenna Welch, went inside.
Moments before Bush arrived, his parents passed in a motorcade of their own, bound for the football game between the University of Texas and Texas A&M. Barbara Bush, the former first lady, appeared amused by the huge crowd of reporters and citizens lining the blocks surrounding the Coffee Station and cracked her window to say "Happy Thanksgiving" with a laugh. She and former president George H.W. Bush had been at the ranch, where the family had been celebrating the 23rd birthdays of twins Barbara and Jenna in addition to Thanksgiving.
Word that Bush is making one of his few-times-a-year trips to the Coffee Station spreads quickly and a line quickly forms for lunch -- so long on Friday that one man wanted to know if it was a line for lottery tickets. Instead, it was a line to get swept with a magnetometer.