- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) — President Bush urged Americans Thursday to pray for God's guidance as the country struggles with the loss of the seven astronauts and faces the threat of terrorism and possible war against Iraq to disarm it of weapons of mass destruction.

The country, he said, was in a time of testing, and it needed to pray for wisdom "to know and do what is right."

"This is a testing time for our country," Bush said at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

"We have troops that are assembling in the Middle East. There's oppressive regimes that seek terrible weapons. We face an ongoing threat of terror.

"One thing is for certain: We didn't ask for these challenges, but we will meet them. I say that with certainty, because this nation has strong foundations that won't be shaken," he said.

The breakfast, held every February, has been a tradition in Washington since the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

This year's event was held at the Washington Hilton and was attended by 56 senators and 241 representatives, members of the president's Cabinet, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the head of the CIA and numerous spiritual leaders.

Bush was accompanied to the breakfast by first lady Laura Bush.

A born-again Christian, he credits his faith for having brought inner peace, stability and purpose to his personal life.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice was the main speaker at the breakfast, mixing poignancy with humor.

She returned to regular church attendance when she was at Stanford University, when a man approached her in a supermarket on a Sunday and was engaged in conversation by a man shopping for his church's picnic.

Did she play piano, by chance, he asked, noting his church was in need of one.

"My goodness, God has a long reach, right into the spice aisle of the Lucky Supermarket." She said she said to herself.

Later, she discovered the congregation had trouble staying in tune, so she called her mother and asked her what to do.

"'Honey, just play in the key of C and they'll come back to you,'" Rice related her mother saying. "Perhaps God plays in C, and that is why we always seem to find our way back to Him, sometimes in spite of ourselves," she said.

Bush, when it was his turn to speak, said that as the country passes through this time of challenge, the nation can be confident in the character of its people, its cause in the world and "in the ways of Providence, even when they are far from our understanding."

The administration, meanwhile, continued in its diplomatic effort Thursday to gain wider international support for conflict with Iraq if the regime of Saddam Hussein continues defying international disarmament mandates and refuses to voluntarily rid itself of chemical and biological weapons.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer said the initiative included phone calls to work leaders and numerous meetings in the wake of Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation of intelligence and information to the U.N. Security Council Wednesday that buttressed the administration's argument that Iraq was again engaged in a game of deception.

Bush has said Saddam and the United Nations both have "weeks, not months" to act or he would lead a coalition of the willing to force disarmament.

Most of Washington's Western European allies oppose force, and argue in favor of giving weapons inspectors in Iraq more time to ferret out contraband materials while pressure is put on Saddam to finally comply.

That sentiment did not change after Powell's testimony Wednesday.

The United States has more than 100,000 troops in the Gulf region at present, and more are on the way.

Perhaps fittingly, Thursday's prayer breakfast was opened by Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who asked God to look out for American service personnel and to comfort their families.

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