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At attack site, Bush salutes veterans

President Bush, touring the World Trade Center's smoking rubble two months after suicide hijackings, called on Americans to remember "the terrible harm that an enemy can inflict" as they reflect anew on the sacrifices of their military.

In a Veterans Day tribute, the commander in chief said attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania deepened the nation's debt to soldiers who fight abroad, and police and firefighters who serve at home.

"The great purpose of our great land . . . is to rid the world of evil and terror," Bush said at a Veterans Day breakfast as he thumped the lectern.

"Evil ones have roused a mighty nation, a mighty land. And for however long it takes, I am determined that we will prevail. And prevail we must, because we fight for one thing _ and that is the freedom of our people and the freedom of people everywhere."

Several hundred veterans, uniformed soldiers and police jumped to their feet and filled a cavernous military armory building with applause. The speech, Bush's first Veterans Day address as president, was his only public remark on the final day of his two-day U.N. visit.

He met privately with the presidents of South Africa, Argentina and Colombia before a U.N. ceremony at the site of the collapsed towers in lower Manhattan.

Actor Ron Silver methodically read the names of each country that lost citizens in the Sept. 11 attacks. An honor guard carried each country's flag and planted it in stanchions set in front of the dignitaries.

Bush, his eyes watery, either from tears or the stinging smoke wafting up from the rubble, walked to a wall listing the names of the nations. Just beneath the name of the United States, he wrote, "Good will triumph over evil. May God bless all of us. George W. Bush."

During the ceremony, Bush bowed his head and tightly closed his eyes as Bishop Patrick Sheridan of New York said, "The victims of vicious cruelty and diabolic revenge, they were members of the human family."

A Muslim cleric and a rabbi also delivered prayers.

Bush looked out over the devastation, which was framed by three red excavations cranes that stretched into the blue sky. An American flag, wrinkled and discolored by soot, flew from a guidewire that hung from one of the cranes.

It was Bush's first visit to the site since Sept. 14, when he waded into the ruins with a bullhorn in one hand and an American flag in the other.

At the Veterans Day breakfast, Bush said the attacks rekindled respect for police and firefighters.

"Whenever an American hears the word police or fire, we think differently. We think differently about the job," Bush said. "We think differently about the character of those who serve on a daily basis. We think differently about those who go to work every single day to protect us and save us and comfort us.

"In a time of war, we look a little differently at our veterans, too," Bush said. Veterans Day tributes are "made with a little greater feeling, because Americans have seen the terrible harm that an enemy can inflict. And it has left us deeply grateful for the men and women who rise strongly in the defense of our nation," he said.

Earlier Sunday, Bush and Argentine President Fernando de la Rua discussed establishing a mechanism for examining particular trade issues as they arise, according to a Bush official. In Argentina's case, the official said, there are concerns on steel and citrus, and "we have questions involving tariffs in general."

They also talked about de la Rua's efforts to work with the IMF on restructuring Argentina's debt.

In a separate meeting, South African President Thabo Mbeki briefed Bush about ongoing peace efforts in Burundi, being negotiated by former President Nelson Mandela, a second administration official said. Bush is to meet with Mandela at the White House today.