- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 6 (UPI) — President George W. Bush Thursday told the nation he prays daily for guidance and wisdom as the United States enters the final stages of diplomacy with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the country is poised on the brink of war.

"My faith sustains me because I pray daily. I pray for guidance and wisdom and strength," Bush told reporters.

Bush held the second prime time news conference of his presidency to make his case for military action against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The White House said earlier in the day Bush would not use the time to declare war, but rather try to answer questions the American people might have about a potential armed conflict.

"One thing that's really great about our country is there are thousands of people who pray for me that I'll never see and be able to thank," Bush said in a steady, hushed voiced. "But it's a humbling experience to think that people I will never have met have lifted me and my family up in prayer. And for that I am grateful."

"I pray for peace," he said reflectively. Bush's eyes appeared to well with tears.

The president, appearing a bit weary but relaxed, stepped to the podium at 8 p.m. with strong, brisk steps and made his opening statements to the hundred or so members of the White House Press Corps assembled in the East Room.

Bush told the nation the United States was in the final stages of diplomacy needed to prepare for the eventuality of war with Iraq, one day before the U.N. Security Council was set to receive a report on the progress of weapons inspections in the Arab nation.

"We have arrived at an important moment in confronting the threat posed to our nation and to peace by Saddam Hussein and his weapons of terror," said Bush.

Senior adviser Karl Rove, Chief of Staff Andrew Card and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice sat in the audience to the president's right as he fielded questions about the possibility he may enter a war that many people around the world oppose.

The United States has repeatedly called on Iraq to account for missing stockpiles of deadly chemical and biological weapons and to destroy existing al Samoud 2 missiles. Since last week, the Iraqis say they have destroyed more than 35 missiles.

Britain, the United States and Spain introduced a draft resolution declaring that "Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it in Resolution 1441." Resolution 1441 demanded Iraq fully and immediately disarm.

To illustrate the danger he believes Saddam poses, Bush pointed to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when 19 hijackers used four commercial airliners as fuel-laden missiles and slammed them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington. Some 3,000 people were killed.

"I know they remember the tragedy of Sept. 11, but I hope they understand the lesson of Sept. 11. The lesson is that we've vulnerable to attack, wherever it may occur, and we must take threats which gather overseas very seriously," he said. "We don't have to deal with them militarily, but we must deal with them. And in the case of Iraq, it is now time for him to disarm."

The president became emotional as he talked about the Iraqi people who may find themselves under attack should the president decide to launch an assault. He also said he thought about the men and women in the armed services who were on the front lines of the potential conflict.

"If we were to commit out troops, I would pray for their safety, and I would pray for the safety of innocent Iraqi lives as well," Bush said.

He said that nobody likes war, but that it was a choice that Saddam had made.

"The only thing that I can do is assure the loved ones of those who ear our uniform, that if we have to got to war, if war is upon 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.

Bush has had difficulty finding strong international support for an offensive against Iraq. He said has been speaking with world leaders by telephone to make his case for the assault.

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