- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

President Bush said yesterday that he would pursue "the last phase of diplomacy" to persuade a skittish U.N. Security Council to help disarm Saddam Hussein, but vowed to act without its approval, declaring that "when it comes to our security, we really don't need anybody's permission."
With the Security Council set to hear the latest report from chief weapons inspector Hans Blix today, Mr. Bush said in last night's nationally televised news conference that he would insist on a vote on a resolution authorizing war regardless of the prospects for the vote's success.
"We want to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council. It's time for people to show their cards, to let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam," the president said.
"No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote."
The president said the September 11 attacks "changed the strategic thinking, at least as far as I was concerned, for how to protect our country. My job is to protect the American people. … September the 11th should say to the American people that we are now a battlefield, that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist organization could be deployed here at home."
Bringing the nation to the brink of war, the president said Saddam's regime continues to hide materials for weapons of mass destruction and has ordered the continued production of banned missiles.
"These are not the actions of a regime that is disarming," Mr. Bush said in a mostly somber, prime-time exchange with reporters in the White House East Room. "These are the actions of a regime engaged in a willful charade. These are the actions of a regime that systematically and deliberately is defying the world."
Addressing wavering foreign leaders who advise continuing inspections, Mr. Bush said, "If they think more time will cause [Saddam] to disarm, I disagree with that. He's a master of deception. He has no intention of disarming."
Declaring that the United States and a coalition of willing nations will disarm Saddam if the United Nations fails, Mr. Bush assured Americans that "if we need to act, we will act. And we really don't need United Nations approval to do so … When it comes to our security, we really don't need anybody's permission."
In his first formal press conference since Nov. 7, Mr. Bush did not declare an explicit decision to go to war. Asked whether he was close to deciding on using force against Iraq, Mr. Bush said "we're still in the final stages of diplomacy."
But he warned: "Diplomacy hasn't worked. We've tried diplomacy for 12 years."
Still, he held out the hope that the crisis could be resolved without force and said he had been paying attention to world anti-war protests.
"I recognize there are people that don't like war. I don't like war," he said.
"I hope [Saddam] disarms. Or, perhaps, I hope he leaves the country. I hear a lot of talk from different nations around where Saddam Hussein might be exiled. That would be fine with me," Mr. Bush said, "just so long as Iraq disarms after he's exiled."
But "if we go to war there will be a regime change. And replacing this cancer inside of Iraq will be a government that represents the rights of all the people, a government which represents the voices of the Shia and the Sunni and the Kurds."
Mr. Bush refused to directly answer questions on whether victory in Iraq would be predicated on the capture or killing of Saddam.
He seemed wary of providing more fodder for his detractors, who have long complained that the Afghanistan campaign is a failure because Osama bin Laden has not been apprehended.
The president's tone was measured and sober during the three-quarters of an hour. The only time he appeared to struggle with his emotions was when answering a question about the role of his religious faith in handling the Iraqi crisis.
"My faith sustains me, because I pray daily. I pray for guidance and wisdom and strength," he said. "If we were to commit our troops, I would pray for their safety, and I would pray for the safety of innocent Iraqi lives as well.
"I pray for peace," he added. "I pray for peace."
After today's report by Mr. Blix, the U.N. Security Council will vote on a 10-day-old resolution declaring Saddam has missed his final opportunity. Mr. Blix on Wednesday foreshadowed his report today, saying there is now "a great deal more" cooperation by Iraqi officials. He advised that U.N. inspectors continue their work well into the summer.
But Mr. Bush said when Mr. Blix appears before the world body, "the world needs him to answer a single question: Has the Iraqi regime fully and unconditionally disarmed as required by Resolution 1441 or has it not?"
The president's hard line on Iraq came a day after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Saddam had lost his last chance to comply with the U.N. Security Council's demand that he disarm.
Mr. Powell said new intelligence shows Iraq plans to destroy only some of its banned weapons and is secretly using newly created facilities to assemble new ones. He also said Saddam has moved material for weapons of mass destruction "to areas far away from Baghdad near the Syrian and Turkish borders in order to conceal them" from U.N. inspectors.
Mr. Bush reiterated those charges, saying, "In some cases, these materials have been moved to different locations every 12 to 24 hours or placed in vehicles that are in residential neighborhoods.
"We know from multiple intelligence sources that Iraqi weapons scientists continue to be threatened with harm should they cooperate with U.N. inspectors. Scientists are required by Iraqi intelligence to wear concealed recording devices during interviews, and hotels where interviews take place are bugged by the regime," Mr. Bush said.
Last night in New York, Mr. Powell discussed changes to the U.S.-backed draft of another Security Council resolution explicitly authorizing force with the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and Spain.
"The United States is seeking a resolution that can obtain maximum support while making clear that the Council stands by the requirement [for Iraq] to disarm immediately," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said after the meeting.
The United States and co-sponsors Britain and Spain appear short of the nine votes needed for their new resolution to pass, even if permanent U.N. Security Council members France, Russia and China do not use their veto.
Mr. Bush also said that despite Turkey's refusal to grant staging rights to U.S. forces for a northern front against Iraq, the United States will continue to lobby for European Union membership for Turkey.
"I support Turkey going into the EU," the president said in response to a question from The Washington Times. "Turkey's a friend. They're a NATO ally. We'll continue to work with Turkey."
Mr. Bush said Turkey's noncooperation will not endanger the lives of U.S. troops, even if they must find another way into Iraq.
"We've got contingencies in place that should our troops not come through Turkey, not be allowed to come through Turkey," he said. "That won't cause any more hardship for our troops; I'm confident of that."
Asked why he is focusing on Iraq at a time when North Korea is defying international bans on nuclear weapons programs, Mr. Bush called the North Korea problem "a regional issue."
Although he acknowledged the United States has a stake in resolving the situation, he emphasized the responsibilities of closer countries like Russia, China, South Korea and Japan.
"Obviously I'm concerned about North Korea developing nuclear weapons, not only for their own use, but perhaps they might choose to proliferate them, sell them," he said. "They may end up in the hands of dictators, people who are not afraid of using weapons of mass destruction, people who try to impose their will on the world or blackmail free nations."

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