- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

President Bush will spend nearly an hour tomorrow night laying out his domestic and international agendas in his State of the Union speech, but most Americans will be focused on the president's presentation of the case against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Despite the timing of the nationally televised, prime-time address, coming one day after the interim report by U.N. inspectors on their search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Americans at home and U.S. allies abroad will not get a "smoking gun," say White House and senior administration officials who asked to remain anonymous.
"The president views States of the Union as a moment to talk about the big challenges, the major challenges our nation faces at home and abroad," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday. "He sees it as an opportunity for this generation and for people who are in office today to face up to these challenges and to deal with them, not to pass them on to future generations."
Although U.S. troops are streaming into the Persian Gulf, one senior Bush administration official said the address will "definitely not be a call to war." Nor will the president issue an ultimatum to Saddam or provide direct evidence of weapons violations by Iraq, the official said.
But in his fourth address to Congress, scheduled to begin at 9:01 p.m., the president will spell out for viewers worldwide the danger Saddam presents to the United States and Iraq's neighbors in the Middle East.
Mr. Bush will "talk about the direct nature and threat that the Iraqi regime poses due to the massive piles of weapons of mass destruction it currently possesses," said Dan Bartlett, White House communications director.
"The president will talk about and provide context to the American people about those events that are upcoming," Mr. Bartlett said during an interview in his West Wing office.
Although U.N. inspectors have found little proof that Saddam possesses "massive piles of weapons," Mr. Bush will declare that Saddam is trying to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and that the world cannot afford to put off any longer dealing with Saddam.
Aides would not say whether Mr. Bush would use the phrase "axis of evil" the way he described Iraq, Iran and North Korea during last year's address to Congress. A senior official said Mr. Bush would not use the speech to respond to the U.N. inspectors' interim report to the Security Council.
Mr. Bush is expected to draw from speeches delivered last week by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
Mr. Armitage said Iraq has not accounted for 30,000 chemical warheads, 550 artillery shells filled with mustard gas, 26,000 liters of anthrax and caches of botulism, VX nerve agent and the sarin gas last known to be in Iraq in the 1990s.
Mr. Wolfowitz said Iraq is refusing to allow U.N. inspectors to use a U-2 spy plane for surveillance activities, is shooting at unmanned U.S. planes patrolling the no-fly zones and is denying permission for scientists and specialists to be interviewed privately.
Coming eight days past the halfway point in his four-year term, Mr. Bush's address will be closely watched by world leaders and Americans. The nonpartisan Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found in a poll last week that 87 percent of Americans believe this year's State of the Union address is as important as, or more important than, last year's speech.
Three months after Mr. Bush helped Republicans retake the Senate, polls show two-thirds of Americans believe he could do more to help the economy; more than half believe his proposed $674 billion tax-cut plan is the solution.
Officials say the 50-minute speech will be split evenly between foreign policy and domestic issues. The address will be broken into four sections: the economy and job creation; health care; security and the war on terrorism; and "making America a more caring, compassionate place," Mr. Fleischer said.
The president will declare that this is a "unique moment in history," one senior official said, in which leaders in Washington can solve some perennial problems, including the threat posed by Saddam and rising prescription drug costs for seniors.
Speechwriters and senior advisers began drafting the outline for the address in mid-December. Mr. Bush received his first draft from chief speechwriter Michael Gerson on Jan 17.
Mr. Bush's first dress rehearsal for the TelePrompTer was Friday afternoon; the speech is expected to undergo more than a dozen rewrites before the delivery tomorrow. Aides would not divulge the guests who would join first lady Laura Bush in the VIP section.

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