US President George Bush today delivered his keynote State of the Union address, the first since September 11, and declared: "Our union has never been stronger."
But in a speech overshadowed by the war against terrorism, he detailed the threat still posed by al Qaida against America and refused to back down on the treatment of prisoners in Cuba, who include three Britons.
And Mr Bush confirmed his plans for the biggest expansion in military spending in 20 years while pledging a doubling of cash to improve security on the home front.
Mr Bush told Congress in a speech which lasted more than an hour: "As we gather tonight, our nation is at war, our economy is in recession, and the civilised world faces unprecedented dangers.
"Yet the state of our union has never been stronger."
Watched by interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, Mr Bush hailed progress in the conflict in the country, claiming it had been liberated from the Taliban regime.
And he went on the offensive against international criticism of the treatment of al Qaida and Taliban prisoners being held by America and said: "Terrorists who once occupied Afghanistan now occupy cells at Guantanamo Bay."
He added: "Our progress is a tribute to the spirit of the Afghan people, to the resolve of our coalition and to the might of the United States military."
But Mr Bush used his speech to underline his view that tens of thousands of trained terrorists, whom he dubbed "ticking time bombs", remained on the loose and ready to strike.
"We have found diagrams of American nuclear power plants and public water facilities, detailed instructions for making chemical weapons, surveillance maps of American cities and thorough descriptions of landmarks in America and throughout the world," he said.
"What we have found in Afghanistan confirms that far from ending there our war against terror is only beginning."
He also issued a veiled warning to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and said: "First, we will shut down terrorist camps, disrupt terrorist plans, and bring terrorists to justice.
"Second, we must prevent the terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological or nuclear weapons from threatening the United States and the world.
"Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror.
"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.
"We will be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer."
But on the home front Mr Bush faces the crucial task of not squandering his wartime popularity, a mistake made by his father who was beaten by Bill Clinton despite winning the Gulf War.
The president emphasised extra money for police and firefighters, and the new drive to make air travel secure, praising two flight attendants watching in the gallery during his speech.
He admitted the American economy is in trouble, but made no reference to the growing Enron scandal, which has been linked to the White House thanks to Mr Bush and his senior officials having close links to the bankrupt energy giant.
He said: "Americans who have lost their jobs need our help, and I support extending unemployment benefits and direct assistance for health care coverage."
The president backed a plan to revive the recession–hit economy and also tried to reach out to the opposition Democrats, calling for a non–party political approach to tackle the recession, matching the united approach to the war.
"For the sake of American workers, let's pass a stimulus package," he said.
And he unveiled a new plan for Americans to offer two years of voluntary work, called the USA Freedom Corps, based on Kennedy's Peace Corps which sent American youngsters overseas to help development projects, in a bid to boost community efforts at home and provide good public relations for America abroad.
"The Freedom Corps will focus on three areas of need: responding in case of crisis at home, rebuilding our communities and extending American compassion throughout the world," he said.Reuse content