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Bush gives first public reaction to Bin Laden death

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WASHINGTON, DC -

By DEVIN DWYER, ABC News

Former President George W. Bush made his first candid public comments on the killing of Osama bin Laden during an appearance Wednesday at a conference of hedge fund managers in Las Vegas.

"I was eating souffle at Rise Restaurant with Laura and two buddies," Bush said when asked what he was doing when he received the call from President Obama, according to an ABC News contributor who attended the event.

"I excused myself and went home to take the call," Bush said. "Obama simply said 'Osama Bin Laden is dead.'"

Bush said Obama described in detail the secret mission to raid bin Laden's Pakistani compound and the decision he made to put the plan into motion. He told Obama, "Good call."

The 43rd president and man who initiated the hunt for bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks has shied from the spotlight since news broke nearly two weeks ago. Bush has declined interview requests and Obama's invitation to join him at Ground Zero to meet with victims' families and first responders four days after the raid.

But appearing before the crowd of 1,800 at the glitzy Bellagio resort and casino, Bush appeared light-hearted and relaxed in talking about bin Laden's death.

When asked by forum moderator Melissa Lee of CNBC how he felt upon learning the news, Bush said he was "not overjoyed," explaining that the campaign to track down the 9/11 mastermind was done not "out of hatred but to exact judgment."

The development is ultimately a victory for the American people, he said.

"The guy is dead. That is good," Bush said of bin Laden. "Osama's death is a great victory in the war on terror. He was held up as a leader."

"The intelligence services deserve a lot of credit. They built a mosaic of information, piece by piece," he said, claiming no credit for himself.

"I met SEAL Team Six in Afghanistan. They are awesome, skilled, talented and brave," he added. "I said, 'I hope you have everything you need. One guy said, 'We need your permission to go into Pakistan and kick ass.'"

Bush said U.S. foreign policy needs to continue to promote the ideas of democracy and freedom as a way to combat global terrorism.

"The long-term solution is to promote a better ideology, which is freedom. Freedom is universal," Bush said. "People who do not look like us want freedom just as much. The relatives of [former Secretary of State]Condoleezza Rice over 100 years ago wanted freedom. It is only when you do not have hope in a society that you join a suicide bomber team."

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