- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

President Bush yesterday said he will "keep all options available" to rein in Iraq, but will "keep them close to my vest" as he increases pressure on Saddam Hussein to relinquish weapons of mass destruction.
During a joint appearance with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Mr. Bush refused to back away from his characterization of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil." The line, first uttered in his State of the Union address last month, has been called too strident by some Democrats.
"I meant what I said," Mr. Bush said. "There are some nations in the world which develop weapons of mass destruction with one intention, and that is to hold America hostage and/or harm Americans and/or our friends and allies."
He added: "Make no mistake about it. If we need to, we will take necessary action to defend the American people. And I think that statement was clear enough for Iraq to hear me."
Asked if he was considering military action against Iraq, the president refused to be pinned down.
"I will reserve whatever options I have," Mr. Bush said. "I'll keep them close to my vest."
Mr. Bush also expressed concern for Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped by terrorists in Pakistan. The president discussed Mr. Pearl's fate in an Oval Office meeting with Gen. Musharraf.
"I am reasonably sure he is alive," Gen. Musharraf told reporters just inside the north entrance of the White House. "We are as close as possible to getting him released.
"But I would like to emphasize here that I have taken certain steps in Pakistan to crush extremism, religious intolerance in the society," he cautioned. "And therefore I expected a certain degree of fallout of these steps."
Mr. Bush thanked the Pakistani president "for his assistance and work on securing Mr. Pearl's release."
Although Democrats have argued that Iraq, Iran and North Korea are not working in concert and therefore should not be labeled an "axis of evil," Mr. Bush suggested such nations have plenty in common when they harbor global terrorist organizations.
"I think one of the worst things that could happen in the world is terrorist organizations mating up with nations which have had a bad history and nations which develop weapons of mass destruction," the president said. "It would be devastating for those of us who fight for freedom."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, testifying yesterday before a House Appropriations subcommittee, said the U.S. government has "long had a policy of regime change" toward Iraq.
Although he defended Mr. Bush's description last month of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil," he said that did not mean military action was necessarily imminent.
Mr. Bush "spoke with clearheadedness and a realistic point of view," Mr. Powell said. "It doesn't mean anybody is declaring a war on these states tomorrow."
Mr. Powell said he expected the U.N. Security Council to adopt a U.S.-backed plan for more targeted "smart sanctions" against Baghdad by the end of May to shore up the tattered system of economic sanctions now in place.
While careful to praise Gen. Musharraf's cooperation in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan, Mr. Bush said he expects equal diligence in uprooting terrorists from within Pakistan.
"He has declared that Pakistan will be an enemy of terrorism and extremism wherever it exists, including inside his own border," Mr. Bush said of Gen. Musharraf. "He understands that terrorism is wrong and destructive in any cause.
"He knows that his nation cannot grow peacefully if terrorists are tolerated or ignored in his country, in his region or in the world," the president added.
Noting that Pakistan will hold elections in the fall, Mr. Bush tried to reassure Pakistanis that America's new closeness with their nation is not a passing fad.
"I can understand why some in Pakistan are saying: 'Well, oh, this is just a short-term dance,'" he said. "But so long as we share the same ideals and values and common objectives, we'll work with Pakistan."
Mr. Bush also downplayed the fact that Gen. Musharraf came to power in a military coup.
"I would suggest that people in Pakistan remember to think about the future and not dwell in the past," Mr. Bush said. "I'm proud to call him friend.
"I want to remind people from Pakistan that I didn't mention many world leaders in my State of the Union," he added. "But I mentioned President Musharraf for a reason. And hopefully, that's an indication of my sincerity of developing a strong and meaningful relationship."
To nurture that relationship, the Bush administration is giving hundreds of millions in aid to Pakistan. This includes $200 million that the White House said will be used to pay down $1 billion worth of Pakistani debt.
Asked how $200 million can pay down $1 billion in debt, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer acknowledged he was stumped.
"That is a great question," he told reporters. "And I have asked it to the people who do work in the realm of international debt.
"And I have been advised that if you give $200 million of assistance, it pays down $1 billion worth of debt," Mr. Fleischer added as reporters laughed. "I can only repeat it; I can't understand it."
David R. Sands contributed to this report.

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