- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

President Bush yesterday gave Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon implicit approval to retaliate if Iraq attacks, hours after the president signed a congressional resolution authorizing him to use force against Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Bush said Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is "a dangerous man" known to strike his enemies without warning.
"I mean, maybe Saddam will attack tomorrow," the president said after meeting with Mr. Sharon in the Oval Office. "If Iraq attacks Israel tomorrow, I would assume the prime minister would respond. He's got a desire to defend himself."
But afterward, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that in a war situation, the United States would consult Israel about how to respond to an Iraqi attack.
"That is a separate issue from, if Iraq tomorrow launched an attack unprovoked, whether [the Israelis] would have a right to defend themselves," he said.
Mr. Bush told the Israeli prime minister that the United States would take action against Hezbollah if the Lebanese militant group attacked Israel.
Mr. Bush dodged a question on whether he had asked the prime minister to stay on the sidelines if Iraq attacks, a move pressed by his father upon Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in 1991 during the U.S.-led Persian Gulf war even after Iraq struck Tel Aviv with 39 Scud missiles.
"I have told the prime minister that my hope is that we can achieve a disarmament of the Iraqi regime peacefully," Mr. Bush said in response to the question: "Have you asked the prime minister not to respond if Iraq attacks?"
Said Mr. Sharon: "We never had such cooperation in everything as we have with the current administration."
"We expect there to be no attacks. This is terrorist activity. We will fight terror wherever terror exists," the president said. "We expect Hezbollah not to attack our friend."
Mr. Bush also said he was sending Assistant Secretary of State William Burns back to the Middle East to help secure "concrete, real, objective, measurable reform" of the Palestinian Authority "so that there is a peaceful future for the region."
Mr. Bush laid out his case for directly confronting Saddam.
"That's what I've explained to the American people. He's attacked two nations. He's gassed his own people. He's a dangerous man. That's why he must be disarmed. And that's why the international community must work to disarm him."
Mr. Bush said Saddam has to "understand that the international community won't tolerate an unprovoked attack on Israel, or anybody else, for that matter."
White House spokesmen later drew distinctions between Israel's response to an unprovoked Iraqi attack and what Baghdad might do in the event of war with the United States.
Said spokesman Sean McCormack: "Of course a country has a right to defend itself." But if there was a war, he said, the United States would consult with Israel and other countries to decide what course of action other nations should take.
The White House had been expected to urge Mr. Sharon who said last week that "if Israel is attacked, it will protect its citizens" to stay out of the conflict should the United States decide to use military force against Saddam. A senior administration official said that Mr. Bush in yesterday's meeting outlined a plan by which the United States will shield Israel from Iraqi missiles and biological or chemical weapons.
When Israel refrained from retaliating in 1991, the United States deployed Patriot anti-missile batteries to prevent strikes.
The Oval Office meeting came amid new tensions between the two allies, with the United States pressing Israel to pull out of at least one of the six West Bank cities it holds after taking over seven cities in June. Over the weekend, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, sent a letter to the prime minister calling for troop withdrawals, the easing of restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and the hand-over of hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian tax revenues that Israel has withheld.
Just hours before the meeting, Israeli machine-gun fire wounded 12 Palestinians, including five children, in the southern Gaza Strip.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush signed a congressional resolution authorizing him to use force against Iraq, calling it an "overwhelming statement of support" to oust Saddam.
"The 107th Congress is one of the few called by history to authorize military action," Mr. Bush said in an East Room ceremony. "If any doubt our nation's resolve, our determination, they would be unwise to test it."
Flanked by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House and Senate, Mr. Bush savored the hard-fought victory over congressional doves. But before he signed the resolution, he called for the United Nations to produce its own resolution against Iraq.
"The time has arrived once again for the United Nations to live up to the purposes of its founding to protect our common security," the president said. "The time has arrived once again for free nations to face up to our global responsibilities and confront a gathering danger."
Among the lawmakers attending yesterday's ceremony were House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican. Absent were the top two congressional Democrats: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who was not invited, and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, who was out of town.
The Democratic Party was represented by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, among others.
Mr. Bush also said he hopes bloodshed can be avoided.
Although the president has been warning for months about military action against Saddam, his rhetoric yesterday became more grave and warlike in the wake of congressional support.
"I've carefully weighed the human cost of every option before us," he said. "If we go into battle, as a last resort, we will confront an enemy capable of irrational miscalculations, capable of terrible deeds.
"As the commander in chief, I know the risks to our country. I'm fully responsible to the young men and women in uniform who may face these risks. Yet those risks only increase with time. And the costs could be immeasurably higher in years to come."
Not since Oct. 7, 2001, when Mr. Bush began military operations against Afghanistan, has he spoken in such ominous terms about the possibility of American battlefield casualties.


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