- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 (UPI) — President George W. Bush Wednesday said that removing the Saddam Hussein will be a key step in rejuvenating the peace process between Israel and Palestine as part of dramatic plan to foster peace and reconstruction in the region.

Speaking to a conservative audience at the Washington-based think tank American Enterprise Institute, the president revealed his broadest vision to date that a successful war with Iraq could reshape the entire Middle East, where U.S. power would remain to guarantee a democratic government for Iraq and bolster democratic reforms in other Middle Eastern states. Only this week, the Defense Department revealed plans that could mean 200,000 U.S. troops would stay in Iraq for an indefinite period.

"Success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace, and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state," Bush said. "The passing of Saddam Hussein's regime will deprive terrorist networks of a wealthy patron that pays for terrorist training, and offers rewards to families of suicide bombers."

Though Bush never mentioned Yasser Arafat by name, he strongly implied victory over Iraq could lead to the Palestinian leader's removal. "Without this outside support for terrorism, Palestinians who are working for reform and long for democracy will be in a better position to choose new leaders," Bush said.

"A Palestinian state must be a reformed and peaceful state that abandons forever the use of terror, " he said.

"For its part," Bush said, "the new government of Israel — as the terror threat is removed and security improves — will be expected to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state — and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement." In addition, Bush said, "settlement activity in the occupied territories must end."

European diplomatic sources told United Press International that Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar and other leaders urged Bush to include a rejuvenated peace process to make the attack on Iraq more palatable in Europe.

The president laid out his plan for a postwar Iraq, pledging, "if we must use force, the United States and our coalition stand ready to help the citizens of a liberated Iraq. We will deliver medicine to the sick, and we are now moving into place nearly 3 million emergency rations to feed the hungry."

He said that the United States would "make sure" that Iraq's 55,000 food distribution sites, the device to feed the people under the United Nation's mandated "Oil For Food program," are stocked and open as soon as possible. In earlier briefings this week, the United States said that 14 million Iraqis are fed by this program and that in addition, the U.S. expects some 2 million refugees to need assistance. Several major humanitarian groups charge that the United States is not prepared and that war will be bring a humanitarian disaster.

Bush said the United States and Great Britain are providing tens of millions of dollars to the U.N. High Commission on Refugees, and to "such groups as the World Food Program and UNICEF," to provide emergency aid to the Iraqi people. Administration officials said earlier this week the United Nations got $15 million, United States Agency for International Development has spent $26 million, and another $54 million was in the process of being spent.

Bush said U.S. occupying forces will "lead in carrying out the urgent and dangerous work of destroying chemical and biological weapons" and provide security "against those who try to spread chaos, or settle scores, or threaten the territorial integrity of Iraq."

Referring to Iraq's vast oil industry, he said the United States " will seek to protect Iraq's natural resources from sabotage by a dying regime" and protect it from foreign manipulations. Both France and Russia had agreements with Saddam to help develop the oil industry.

Bush said that the United States "has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people. Yet, we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another. All Iraqis must have a voice in the new government, and all citizens must have their rights protected."

As he has since the war on terror began, Bush again called up visions of World War II and the reconstruction that followed. "There was a time when many said that the cultures of Japan and Germany were incapable of sustaining democratic values. Well, they were wrong. Some say the same of Iraq today. They are mistaken!" Bush said.

The audience gave the president repeated applause as he spoke. AEI has been the intellectual seed ground for his administration and he noted that 20 of its members are serving in his administration. Many of the plans for redrawing the map of the Middle East, Bush espoused Wednesday were formed at AEI.

At several junctures, Bush reiterated his plan to overthrow Saddam and never mentioned the worldwide opposition he has faced for his war.

"The danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons cannot be ignored or wished away," Bush said. "The danger must be confronted. We hope that the Iraqi regime will meet the demands of the United Nations and disarm, fully and peacefully. If it does not, we are prepared to disarm Iraq by force. Either way, this danger will be removed."

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