- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

President Bush yesterday told Russia and other antiwar nations to stop playing politics with Iraq's oil-for-food program by blocking its resumption as a way of protesting the U.S.-led war.

"This urgent humanitarian issue must not be politicized," Mr. Bush said in a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "More than half the Iraqi people depend on this program as their sole source of food."

The president said he and Mr. Blair urged the United Nations to immediately resume the program, which was suspended when the war in Iraq broke out. They implored the U.N. Security Council to draft a resolution that would give U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, rather than the Iraqi regime, the authority to sign program contracts.

"The Security Council should give Secretary-General Annan the authority to start getting food supplies to those most in need of assistance," Mr. Bush said at the press conference, which was held at Camp David.

Hours after the president spoke, Germany's ambassador to the United Nations said Security Council members had agreed on a draft resolution to reactivate the program, which could be put to a vote as early as today.

"It seems we have found agreement on the resolution," said Gunter Pleuger, head of the council's Iraq sanctions committee. He predicted that all 15 members of the Security Council would support the resolution, which "will be adopted by consensus."

But a senior administration official suggested that Russia and other nations were attempting to settle old scores with the United States by opposing the oil-for-food resolution. Moscow expressed concern that support of the resolution could be construed as legitimizing the war, which is opposed by Russia, France and China.

"This is about the health and well-being of the Iraqi people, not about old battles that were fought in the Security Council before this war began," the official said in response to questions from The Washington Times.

"There are those currently in the debate who seem to believe that this is somehow a statement about whether you did or did not agree with what happened in the launching of this war," added the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Blair planned to discuss the oil-for-food program with Mr. Annan in New York last night.

"The immediate focus has got to be on the oil-for-food program, because that is thing we need to get sorted out with the United Nations literally in the next few days," Mr. Blair said at Camp David. "This is urgent."

During the press conference, Mr. Bush bristled at a reporter's question about whether the war will last days, weeks or months.

"I'll answer that question very quickly," Mr. Bush said. "However long it takes to win."

When pressed to be more specific, the president refused.

"However long it takes to achieve our objective," he said. "That's the answer to your question and that's what you've got to know.

"It isn't a matter of timetable, it's a matter of victory and the Iraqi people have got to know that," Mr. Bush said. "They've got to know that they will be liberated and Saddam Hussein will be removed, no matter how long it takes."

The White House emphasized that the war in Iraq is barely a week old. Officials pointed out that critics were quick to brand the Afghanistan conflict a "Vietnam quagmire" after the first week, only to see the strategic city of Mazar-e-Sharif fall a month later, allowing allied forces to sweep across most of Afghanistan.

"There's a little sense of deja vu here," the senior administration official said in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. "There was a lot of concern that the Northern Alliance was never going to move, and people were writing that you were going to have to Americanize the war and we're going to have to change strategy and did we have the wrong strategy."

The official recalled that during the 1999 NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, the Clinton administration was besieged by critics who said: "You're just bombing; it's not working." Some of those naysayers are now making the same accusations about the Bush administration's military campaign in Iraq.

"We just have to keep reminding ourselves, all of us, that this is a very short period of time in a very large country, that the objectives are being achieved at a steady pace, that we've made a lot of progress," the official said.

Mr. Blair also agreed with those sentiments.

"In just under a week, there is a massive amount that has already been achieved," he said. "I mean, after all, coalition forces are within 50 miles of Baghdad, the southern oil fields are secured, the west is protected from external aggression, we've got forces going into the north.

"Now, we will carry on until the job is done," Mr. Blair said. "But there is absolutely no point, in my view, of trying to set a time limit or speculate on it, because it's not set by time, it's set by the nature of the job."

Mr. Bush pointed out that "we're now engaging the dictator's most hardened and most desperate units." He emphasized the incremental nature of progress against such foes.

"Coalition forces are advancing day by day, in steady progress against the enemy," he said. "Slowly, but surely, the grip of terror around the throats of the Iraqi people is being loosened."

Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair devoted a portion of their meeting to sketching out Iraq's internal structure after Saddam is deposed. The two leaders focused on "the need to have an interim Iraqi authority," the senior administration official said.

"But they had an extensive discussion of the fact that a lot of how this unfolds will be dictated by what they find when the conflict is over," the official said. "In Afghanistan, it was well into the process of liberation before leadership began to emerge within the country.

"The interim Iraqi authority is to be a group made up both of external opposition, people who have worked on behalf of the Iraqi people on the outside, but also with heavy representation of people who are on the ground in the country."

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