- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2003

President Bush plans to make history today by landing in a small plane on a moving aircraft carrier hundreds of miles from shore to declare an end to the combat phase of the war in Iraq.
The White House downplayed any danger to the president, whose four-person Navy S-3B Viking anti-submarine aircraft will hook onto a steel cable after landing to prevent it from plunging off the flight deck and into the Pacific Ocean. Mr. Bush will be in the co-pilot's seat.
"He is a former pilot," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said of his boss, who once flew jet fighters for the Texas Air National Guard.
"For the sake of the landing, I'm sure he will be doing no piloting," the spokesman deadpanned. "Hope he's not watching today's briefing."
But later in the day, Mr. Bush playfully left open the possibility that he would take the controls of the plane.
"Never can tell what's going to kick in the urge," he told reporters in the Oval Office. "Let me just say: Stay clear of the landing pattern."
Six hours after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln, which is returning to California after serving in the war, Mr. Bush will give a televised address to the nation on the end of hostilities and the beginning of reconstruction in Iraq. For the first time since Operation Iraqi Freedom began, the White House has asked broadcast TV networks for time to air the 15-minute speech, which begins 9 p.m. EDT.
The president's trip to the carrier comes amid signs that the administration also is winning the larger war against terrorism. The State Department yesterday released its annual report on terrorism, which showed a decline in international terrorist attacks to the lowest level since 1969.
However, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell cautioned that terrorism still "casts its grim shadow across the globe."
"Even as I speak, terrorists are planning appalling crimes and trying to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Powell said. "We cannot and will not relax our resolve, our efforts and our vigil."
Still, the president was described by the White House as "eagerly anticipating" the quasi-victory speech tonight.
"He's very excited about the prospect of being directly with many of the sailors and the Marines who helped make the success of the mission possible," Mr. Fleischer said. "He's also looking forward to addressing the nation from the deck of a moving aircraft carrier.
"That's a wonderful metaphor for the return of our troops from combat back to their families," he added. "It's a very exciting voyage, a very exciting trip, but nowhere near as exciting as the voyage that the sailors and the Marines are taking because they're coming home to see their families."
Although Mr. Bush will pronounce the combat phase of the war over, he will stop short of formally declaring victory. Under the Geneva Convention, such a declaration would obligate the United States to call off its hunt for Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi leaders.
It also would make the United States an "occupying power" a status the Bush administration is not eager to embrace because it would impose international-law obligations on the American military.
The Geneva Convention also calls for any nation that formally declares victory to release all prisoners of war, a process that U.S. forces have begun.
International legalities aside, Mr. Bush does not want to declare victory at a time when sporadic gunbattles continue to put U.S. troops in harm's way. The president plans to emphasize such dangers in the speech.
"There are pockets of resistance; there continue to be Iraqis who shoot at America's armed forces," Mr. Fleischer said. "The president knows that while major combat operations have ended and while the next phase has begun with the reconstruction of Iraq, there continue to be threats to the security and the safety of the American people, and he will describe that."
Still, Mr. Bush promised weeks ago that he would declare the combat phase of the war over as soon as he received the all-clear signal from Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the overall commander of the war. Gen. Franks relayed that message to the president Tuesday.
Mr. Bush will sleep overnight on the Lincoln as it steams toward San Diego. On Saturday, he will depart on the Marine One presidential helicopter because the ship will then be close enough to shore for a brief chopper ride.
That will be less hazardous than the longer flight and landing of the Navy jet, an S-3B Viking, that will carry Mr. Bush to the aircraft carrier. The plane, which is normally used to hunt submarines and attack other enemy assets, will also carry a Secret Service agent, a pilot and a crew member.
After stopping in San Diego, the Lincoln will continue to its home base of Everett, Wash., ending nine months at sea.
"The president is giving the speech now because of the successful operations that have been carried out, the significant accomplishments in achieving the mission, and because he wants to explain to the American people, having risked lives and treasure in pursuit of our goals in Iraq, what the present results are," Mr. Fleischer said.
He added: "That's something that the president began with a speech to the country about. And he wants to again now bring it to a conclusion with a speech to the country."

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