Friday, April 9, 2004

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Vice President Dick Cheney said yesterday the United States must stay the course in Iraq and fight to bring liberty to the Iraqi people.

“Our will is being tested in Iraq as we’ve seen in the heavy fighting in Iraq this week,” Mr. Cheney said in a speech to several hundred members of the Air Force in a hangar at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

“Yet, as Americans we understand what is at stake,” he said. “It is absolutely essential in both Afghanistan and Iraq that we finish the task at hand. That means helping the people of both nations to establish representative governments and the forces necessary to guarantee their security — so they can enjoy the blessings of liberty and their countries never again become sanctuaries for terrorists.”

Mr. Cheney said U.S. security and those of American friends in the region “is directly dependent on our success,” in Iraq.

He made the remarks at the first stop on a seven-day trip to Asia, where he will visit leaders in Japan, China and South Korea.

Mr. Cheney is urging two Asian allies with troops in Iraq — Japan and South Korea — to stand fast and not bow to pressure from kidnappers. Shi’ite militants were holding three Japanese civilians, threatening to kill them if Japan does not withdraw its troops from Iraq. Eight Koreans also were taken but then released.

Japan’s government has said it will not withdraw its forces of about 530 ground troops in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah, part of a total planned deployment of 1,100 soldiers.

Alaska remains a vital strategic base for the United States in dealing with “the grave threat” of international terrorism, Mr. Cheney said. Troops from the base have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and others have been sent to guard the Alaska oil pipeline against potential attack, he said.

Alaska also will be the first base for the U.S. national missile-defense system, which will include interceptor missiles and radar at Fort Greeley.

The air wing at the base, where troops are called “arctic warriors,” also provides a “top cover” for aircraft threats to the United States and Canada, Mr. Cheney said.

Mr. Cheney thanked the troops for “keeping the terrorist enemy on the run around the world.”

The vice president, who is traveling with his wife, Lynne, also spoke at a Republican fund-raiser for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, after meeting with the troops.

Mr. Cheney said during a speech at the fund-raiser that the war on terrorism requires “an aggressive strategy — not merely to prosecute a series of crimes, but to fight and win a global campaign against the terror network.”

He also criticized presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who he said would take a different course in the war on terrorism, focusing more on law enforcement and intelligence gathering instead of the military-oriented approach being pursued by the Bush administration.

On the economy, Mr. Cheney said President Bush has taken “strong confident steps” to spur economic growth. He noted that tax relief measures had led to “significant tax relief for millions of American families and businesses.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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