Bush - Worldwide protests not factor in handling Iraq

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Declaring that America's security should not be dictated by protesters, President Bush said Tuesday he would not be swayed from compelling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to disarm. "We will deal with him," Bush said as U.S. and British diplomats weighed another bid for U.N. backing.

"War is my last choice," Bush said at the White House as echoes of anti-war protests circled the globe. "But the risk of doing nothing is even a worse option as far as I am concerned."

Standing firmly against skeptical allies as well as the demonstrators, Bush said: I owe it to the American people to secure this country. I will do so."

Administration officials in Washington and at the United Nations in New York were discussing the possible gains as well as the risk of a diplomatic defeat if the United States proposed a new resolution to the Security Council to endorse force as an option to disarm Iraq.

One U.S. official said Tuesday there was no decision on a text or even on whether to go ahead, though White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "I think it will be a simple and rather straightforward resolution."

Bush said a second resolution "would be useful," although "we don't need a second resolution. It's clear this guy could even care less about the first resolution. He's in total defiance."

In Rome, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Iraq had to "move very fast" to heed the call of the international community and cooperate with U.N. inspectors or face possible war. But he said it was up to the Security Council to decide if the inspections had gone on long enough.

France, with support from Russia and China, does not accept the U.S. view that the Security Council effectively endorsed force as an option to disarm Iraq in an earlier resolution that warned of "serious consequences" if Saddam persisted in defying U.N. demands.

Focus group politics

As for the protests around the world by millions of people opposed to war with Iraq, Bush said they were irrelevant to his duty to protect America.

"Size of protest, it's like deciding, 'Well I'm going to decide policy based up on a focus group.' The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security -- in this case -- security of the people," he said.

"Democracy is a beautiful thing, and that people are allowed to express their opinion," he said.

"Some in the world don't view Saddam Hussein as a risk to peace," he added. "I respectfully disagree."

Last Friday, an overwhelming majority of the 15 council members followed France's lead and called for extending U.N. weapons searches in Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell's argument that the searches were virtually useless was overridden.

On Tuesday, however, the Bush administration drew some support in Europe.

Thirteen incoming members of the European Union endorsed a joint declaration in Brussels, Belgium, that warned Saddam he had one last chance to disarm.

French President Jacques Chirac scoffed that the 13 had "missed a good opportunity to keep quiet."

In a parallel action backing the United States, 10 former communist countries, seven of them EU candidates, reiterated their support for Washington's position on Saddam.

Spokesman Fleischer did not fault Chirac, saying he simply had another approach to the Iraqi threat and has always leveled with Bush privately and publicly.

Fleischer suggested the same could not be said of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, declining to say whether the German leader also told Bush the same thing in private as he said in public.

At the White House, Bush gave no ground.

"Hopefully, Saddam Hussein will disarm," he said. "If he chooses not to disarm, as I have been saying for a long time, we will lead a coalition of the willing to disarm him."

But one valued ally, Turkey, hesitated to permit thousands of U.S. soldiers on its soil.

"We are not going to the parliament tomorrow," Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said Monday, backing away from a pledge for a vote Tuesday. "We have some concerns on economic and political issues."

Turkey has been negotiating with the Bush administration for a large assistance package. Bush said Turkey had "no better friend than the American government" and he was confident details could be worked out.

According to a proposal put forward late Monday, Turkey is asking $10 billion in grants and up to $20 billion in long-term loans, diplomats said.

Turks and Americans had been negotiating on the basis of $4 billion to $6 billion in grants and $10 billion to $15 billion in loans, according to news reports and diplomats.

The grants reportedly would be split between cash and military debt write-offs.

Next weekend, Bush will meet at his ranch in Texas with a European supporter, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of Spain. Another, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain is under enormous pressure to back away from conflict with Iraq.

Praising both men as courageous, Bush said, "These are men of vision. They see the task at hand. And I'm proud to call them allies. And we'll work together for the sake of peace."

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