- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 6 (UPI) — Saying that he prays daily for peace, President George W. Bush told reporters Friday the United States is in the "final stages" of diplomatic efforts to disarm Saddam Hussein and will force a vote in the U.N. Security Council to make each nation take a stand on the issue.

In 45-minute-long news conference in the White House East Room, a somber and soft-voiced president reiterated that he has made no decision to go to war, telling one reporter his faith has sustained him.

"I pray daily," he said. "I pray for guidance and wisdom and strength" and for peace as well.

But he very firmly and often repeated that he had taken an oath as president to protect the American people and that he and his administration had determined that Iraq is a threat to the United States.

"We will not wait to see what terrorists or terrorist states could do with weapons of mass destruction," Bush said. "We are determined to confront threats wherever they arise. And I will not leave the American people at the mercy of the Iraqi dictator and his weapons."

The White House called the unexpected news conference in a week when the president's diplomacy seemed to be in retreat. On Wednesday, France and Russia threatened to veto any U.N. resolution that called for an attack on Iraq, and an informal count of the members of the Security Council showed the U.S. had few allies.

Last weekend, the Turkish parliament refused to approve U.S. troops moving through its country to open a northern front against Iraq, and though a second vote may be taken, Bush said that the United States could carry its attack to Iraq without that corridor.

Bush presented no new evidence against Iraq Thursday, repeating as he has done in the past that Saddam has not disarmed. He dismissed as an effort by Saddam to buy time the reports earlier this week by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix that Iraq has destroyed some missiles.

On the eve of Blix's formal report to the United Nations Friday, Bush neither criticized nor confronted France and Russia. Mentioning France and Germany, Bush said "they're still our friends and we will deal with them as friends," but he said "we have a disagreement over how to best deal with Saddam Hussein."

He noted that last fall, France was among those countries that voted unanimously for Resolution 1441 that demanded Saddam disarm.

Bush said the United States would seek a vote "to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council."

"No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for a vote," he said. "It's time for people to show their cards, let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam."

Bush was asked by several reporters about the cost in lives to American combat forces and Iraq civilians in the event of a war.

"The price of doing nothing exceeds the price of taking action if we have to," he replied. "We will do everything to minimize the loss of life. The cost of attacks on America on Sept. 11 were enormous. They were significant. And I am not willing to take that chance again."

He said that he had measured the cost of attacking against inaction over and over again. The cost of lives in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, was "immeasurable. Three thousand people died."

Bush said that if he felt "we were safe from attack, I would be thinking differently. But I see a gathering threat. I mean, this is a true threat to America."

Throughout the news conference, Bush seemed subdued and weary. He called upon reporter after reporter in what he acknowledged was a "scripted" exchange, exceeding the usual number of questioners that the White House press office carefully calibrates.

Ask about his reaction to the millions of demonstrators who marched worldwide against the war, Bush at first likened them to the demonstrators against the World Trade Organization, but later softened a bit.

"I recognize there are people who don't like war. I don't like war. I wish Saddam Hussein had listened to the demands of the world and disarmed. That was my hope."

He said that was why he had gone to the United Nations in the first place.

"Nobody likes war," he said, adding he refused to shrink from the necessity of military action.

"The only thing I can do is assure the loved ones who wear our uniform, that if we have to go to war, if war is thrust upon us because Saddam Hussein has made that choice, we will have the best equipment available for our troops, the best plan available for victory, and we will respect innocent life in Iraq," Bush said.

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