- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 1, 2003

CRAWFORD, Texas President Bush yesterday said that Saddam Hussein looms as a far greater threat than North Korea's Kim Jong-il and warned that an attack on the United States orchestrated by the Iraqi dictator could cripple the U.S. economy.
"Any attack of Saddam Hussein or a surrogate of Saddam Hussein would cripple our economy," the president said as he stopped for lunch at a hamburger joint near his Texas ranch. "This economy cannot afford to stand an attack."
Taking questions from reporters for the first time in weeks, Mr. Bush said the United States is working to engage North Korea diplomatically. Although a military response to Mr. Kim's expulsion of U.N. weapons inspectors is not being considered, he said, "all options are on the table."
"I do not believe this is a military showdown. It is a diplomatic showdown," Mr. Bush said, adding that he thought the confrontation could be resolved peacefully.
"The international community particularly those countries close to North Korea understand the stakes involved," he said.
Critics charge the Bush administration with duplicity for treating Iraq and North Korea differently. They say Iraq, which claims it has no weapons of mass destruction and is allowing inspections by U.N. personnel, presents a lesser threat than North Korea, which has at least two nuclear bombs and last week ejected inspectors.
But Mr. Bush said the Iraqi dictator has defied international decrees for more than a decade and poses the greater threat to the United States and its allies.
"First of all, I think it's important to remember that Saddam Hussein was close to having a nuclear weapon. We don't know whether or not he has a nuclear weapon.
"Secondly, the international community has been trying to resolve the situation in Iraq through diplomacy for 11 years. And for 11 years, Saddam Hussein has defied the international community. And now we've brought the world together to send a clear signal: We expect him to disarm, to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction."
In his first public comment about a lengthy declaration last month by Iraq that it has no weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Bush said Saddam "wasn't forthcoming."
U.S. and U.N. officials have said there are glaring omissions in the document. The Bush administration declared Saddam in "material breach" of U.N. resolutions, a step that could be used to justify military action.
"That was discouraging. His declaration was short. And the international community recognized that," Mr. Bush said.
Still, the president said he will continue to work toward a peaceful solution.
"I hope this Iraq situation will be resolved peacefully. One of my New Year's resolutions is to work to deal with these situations in a way so that they're resolved peacefully. But thus far, it appears that, first look, that Saddam Hussein hasn't heard the message," he said.
In response to a question about reports that his administration was ready to spend $50 billion to $60 billion to disarm Saddam, Mr. Bush said the economic cost of going to war to eliminate Saddam's weapons of mass destruction is better than risking an attack with those weapons.
Mr. Bush responded abruptly when a reporter suggested a war with Iraq was inevitable.
"You say we're headed to war in Iraq. I don't know why you suggested that," the president said. "I'm the person who gets to decide, not you."
Mr. Bush said his point was that war can be avoided if Saddam complies with the U.N. mandate and that there has been no final U.S. decision to go to war.
Iraq yesterday invited chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix to talks in Baghdad "between the second and third week of January," ahead of a report he is due to present Jan. 27 to the U.N. Security Council.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Iraq was cooperating with weapons inspectors and that an attack is not justified at this time.
"Iraq is cooperating, and the inspectors have been able to do their work in an unimpeded manner and I don't see an argument for military action now," Mr. Annan said in an interview with Israeli military radio.
American and British warplanes flying multiple missions attacked Iraq air-defense facilities after an Iraqi fighter jet penetrated the southern no-fly zone, the U.S. military said.
Having taken just one question from reporters in the past 26 days, Mr. Bush fielded queries on a several subjects, including the ouster of Sen. Trent Lott from his post as Senate majority leader after the Mississippi Republican praised the pro-segregation presidential candidacy of Strom Thurmond in 1948.
"I think that most people understand that their Republican Party cares deeply about each individual, regardless of the color of their skin or their religion," Mr. Bush said. "And I will continue to promote policies that enable the American individual to achieve his or her dreams. I believe in equal access to the greatness of America. And this administration is committed to that and will continue to work toward that goal."
As Americans prepared for New Year's Eve celebrations, Mr. Bush said he personally authorized the FBI to put out an all-points bulletin for five men suspected of being smuggled into the country.
U.S. intelligence said the men came through Canada, but it was not clear whether they had plans to carry out terrorist acts.
"We don't have any idea or what their intentions might be, but we are mindful that there are still some out there who would try to harm America and harm Americans and so therefore we take every threat seriously, every piece of evidence seriously," Mr. Bush said.
The president's trip to the Crawford's Coffee Station for a cheeseburger and onion rings is becoming somewhat of a tradition; Mr. Bush made the same trip for the same meal exactly a year ago. Then, he jokingly made a resolution to cut down on cheeseburgers.
Wearing muddy boots, jeans and a work jacket with a plaid lining, the president was asked how he was doing on the resolution.
"The answer is, yes, to the extent that I'm now comfortable in having a cheeseburger today," he said, drawing laughter from diners and reporters.


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