- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 18 (UPI) — The White House on Tuesday said Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will make his final mistake if he doesn't leave his country by early Thursday, as a deadline imposed by President George W. Bush quickly approaches and a multi-national coalition prepares to invade the Arab nation.

"The president believes in his heart that to preserve peace around the world, Saddam Hussein must be disarmed. And he is comfortable with the action that is pending and is confident that it will achieve its goal," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Tuesday.

Security was tightened in Washington the day after Bush delivered Saddam and his sons a final ultimatum to leave the country or face a military invasion. Saddam, who has until 8 p.m. EST on Wednesday to comply with U.S. demands, has said he would not leave.

Saddam's eldest son Uday rejected Bush's ultimatum and said the Iraqis "will make the mothers and wives of the U.S. and British invading soldiers shed blood instead of tears on their sons and husbands" in case they invaded Iraq.

During the president's speech on Monday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security raised the national threat level from "yellow," or "elevated," to "orange," or "high risk." The agency said the intelligence community believed terrorists would attempt attacks against U.S. and coalition targets should war plans move forward.

On Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge promised that the government would get the facts out about any terror threats as fast as possible.

"There is bound to be misinformation," Ridge warned. "Don't react to rumors."

He added that raising the national threat level had been planned to minimize the affect on the nation's economy.

Despite, Ridge's concern for the economy, speculation continued on Capital Hill and elsewhere over how much the administration planned to spend to oust Saddam.

The White House is reportedly expected to seek up to $90 billion in a supplemental appropriation to pay for the war. Bush requested $379.9 billion for the Pentagon in his 2004 federal budget request, up $15 billion over last year. It is the largest defense increase since the Reagan administration, but does not include the cost of military action in Iraq.

Officials in the House and Senate appropriations committees said they have not yet received any estimates from the White House Budget Office.

"Congress is just beginning the whole process of reviewing the budget, and all of this will be a part of that," said Fleischer. "In the event that it does lead to hostilities, the administration would send up a supplemental appropriation bill to the Congress, and so Congress will then have at its disposal all the relevant facts and figures to make the determinations for their budget issues as the year proceeds."

On Capitol Hill, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., addressed the issue of war costs from the Senate floor. McCain said he could not "in good conscience" vote in favor of tax cuts or support spending increases unrelated to the nation's defense.

Last year, the president signed a 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut package into law that he called "the largest tax relief passed in a generation." Two months ago, Bush proposed making his income tax reductions set for 2004 and 2006 permanent, effective this year. He proposed abolition of the marriage penalty and a child tax credit hike to $1,000, both effective immediately.

"The United States is currently engaged in a global war against terrorism, and will, in all likelihood, soon commence a necessary war to disarm Iraq by destroying the regime of Saddam Hussein," McCain said.

He went on to say that the administration has not provided the Congress with a realistic estimate of how much this endeavor will cost the U.S. Treasury.

"I don't fault them for that. The costs are simply not knowable at this time," McCain said.

Meanwhile, a CNN/USA Today poll taken following the president's speech found that 66 percent of Americans approve of Bush's decision to go to war unless Saddam leaves Iraq within 48 hours, while only 30 percent disapprove. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

For a second day this week, Bush had no public appearances or events on his schedule, staying secluded inside the White House. The president Tuesday reached out to the leaders of Russia and China, two of the permanent members of the Security Council who opposed military action against Iraq.

In a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladamir Putin, the two leaders underscored the importance of bilateral cooperation despite their disagreements over the situation in Iraq, the White House said. Putin invited Bush to visit St. Petersburg at the end of May.

"The two openly acknowledged that they don't see eye-to-eye on whether or not force should be used to disarm Saddam Hussein. They agree about threats in the region, but it's no secret that they don't see eye-to-eye on whether the use of force is a required remedy to make Saddam Hussein disarm," Bush said. "But the two of them in the phone call did stress to each other the importance of maintaining good U.S.-Russia relations, and the both expressed confidence that it would, indeed, happen."

In a separate call to Chinese President Hu Jintao, the two leaders stressed the importance of U.S.-China relations for the advancement of bilateral interests and international peace and stability. Both men discussed the ongoing situation in Iraq and North Korea.

The president also reiterated the administration's commitment to a one-China policy, the White House said.

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