- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2003

President Bush predicted this week that the U.S.-led coalition eventually would capture or kill ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who resurfaced yesterday on an audiotape demanding that coalition troops withdraw immediately or face certain defeat.

“The definition of victory is for there to be a free and peaceful Iraq and, yes, we’d like to capture or kill him as well,” the president told reporters from regional newspapers. “And we will at some point in time.”

Mr. Bush said his strategy was helping Iraq move toward security, stability and independence, as illustrated by the announcement Tuesday that an Iraqi delegation would attend a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries next week for the first time since U.S. forces toppled Saddam’s regime.

“I need to continue to explain to the American people why it’s important we succeed in Iraq. A free and peaceful Iraq is essential to the war on terror,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get through the filter. I will continue to make the case.”

Mr. Bush yesterday held a National Security Council meeting with his top foreign policy and military advisers about Iraq and later spoke separately with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Among the topics discussed was a proposed resolution in the United Nations to create a multinational force for Iraq and set up a pathway to Iraqi sovereignty.

Mr. Bush addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. He and senior administration officials are working to persuade opponents of the Iraq war — including France, Germany and Russia — to support the U.S. plan.

France and Germany have proposed recognition of an Iraqi transition government and endorsement of a U.S.-led multinational force after the United States cedes control over the political transition to the United Nations and the interim Iraqi leaders.

France wants the United States to hand over control in one month, but has expressed a readiness to accept a “symbolic” transfer of power to Iraqi authorities as part of a broad compromise aimed at restoring sovereignty.

The White House said no arbitrary schedule for a handover should be set.

“I don’t think that timetable should be set by any country, it should be set by the Iraqi people,” Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said. “The Iraqi Governing Council should be the one, as representatives of the Iraqi people, setting timetables and putting forward a constitution. … It has to be realistic, you have to base it on creating the institutions necessary to assume that responsibility and govern your country.”

Mr. Bush said, “The Iraqis need to develop a constitution and then have free elections. Then we can — and then we deal with the sovereignty issue. And so, therefore, we’re talking amongst ourselves.”

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will meet in Berlin this weekend to try to coordinate their stands on Iraq and put their differences behind them. Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Chirac were ardent opponents of the U.S.-led war, while Britain joined the coalition to oust Saddam.

In Washington, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said yesterday that the gap was closing between the Bush administration and European governments on a U.N. resolution and that an agreement was “quite possible.”

“There is a genuine desire for a meeting of minds,” Mr. Papandreou said after talking with Mr. Powell.

In his White House interview Tuesday with reporters from newspapers in states important to his re-election campaign — including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Washington and Oregon — Mr. Bush said the United States must work through difficulties and prepare to spend billions of dollars to secure peace in Iraq.

While acknowledging that Saddam has no proven connection to al Qaeda — the Afghanistan-based terror group responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States — the president said “the war on terror goes on.”

Mr. Rumsfeld, speaking to military and government officials at the Pentagon’s National Defense University, said yesterday that the United States cannot let the world think it will retreat from a fight.

He said he stressed to Mr. Bush before accepting the top Pentagon job three years ago that the United States must stand firm when confronted. “I said I was personally of the opinion that it was unhelpful for our country if the world believed that every time we got our nose bloodied we tucked in and came home,” he said in response to questions after the speech.

Meanwhile, the Arabic television channel Al Arabiya aired an audiotape supposedly from Saddam in which he demanded that Washington withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq or face “catastrophic” losses.

The speaker also called on Iraqis to “wage holy war by all means against the foolish invaders.”

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