Bush calls Chinese, Russian leaders, fails to win backing

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

WASHINGTON -- On the brink of war with Iraq, President Bush reached out Tuesday to the leaders of Russia and China, two countries that resisted setting an ultimatum for using force against Saddam Hussein. But Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao told Bush they still preferred a U.N.-brokered solution.

Bush called both leaders a day after aborting diplomatic efforts in the United Nations.

The Russian president "expressed regret in connection with Washington's decision to issue the ultimatum and the fact that intensive diplomatic efforts had failed to produce a mutually acceptable compromise," the Kremlin said.

"The two openly acknowledged that they don't see eye-to-eye on whether or not force should be used to disarm Saddam Hussein," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "They agree about the threats in the region."

Bush also spoke to China's newly installed president, who told Bush that U.N. weapons inspections must continue despite the U.S. ultimatum to Saddam.

Hu told Bush that China hopes for "peace instead of war" and wants a political settlement through the United Nations, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The White House offered no details on the conversation. Fleischer said that "the presidents shared views on Iraq and North Korea."

U.S. troops are headed into Iraq one way or another. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that even if Saddam seeks exile U.S. forces will enter Iraq to disarm it -- hopefully without opposition.

On Tuesday, Iraq's leadership rejected Bush's ultimatum. Iraqi television said the decision was made in a joint meeting of the Revolution Command Council -- Iraq's highest executive body -- and the leadership of the ruling Baath party. Saddam chaired the meeting, it said.

Saddam's elder son, Odai Hussein, said in a statement that Bush is "unstable" and "should give up power in America with his family."

Fleischer responded that "Iraq has made a series of mistakes, including arming themselves with weapons of mass destruction that have brought this crisis upon itself.

"This is the latest mistake Iraq could make. It would be Saddam's final mistake," Fleischer said. "The president still hopes he will take the ultimatum seriously and leave the country."

But Fleischer would not rule out a U.S. attack before Bush's 48-hour clock ran out if the Iraqi leader rejects the exile offer. "Saddam Hussein has to figure out what this means," he said.

Bush was spending the day in a White House protected by increased security measures, calling allies and trying to recruit partners for the war. He also met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, as he has each day.

He was making several calls to world leaders, including , in a prime-time speech Monday night, vowed to strike Iraq with "the full force and might" of the U.S. military unless Saddam and his two sons leave Iraq within 48 hours. More than 250,000 American forces are poised for action in the Persian Gulf. "The tyrant will soon be gone," the president pledged

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle charged that a collapse of the administration's diplomatic efforts had brought an unneeded war.

"I'm saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war," Daschle said in a speech to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country."

Fleischer accused Daschle of being "inconsistent" because the Democratic leader had insisted last September -- after Bush accused Democrats of putting politics ahead of the nation's security -- that "we ought not politicize this war."

Fleischer said Daschle did not raise objections Monday in a meeting at the White House with other lawmakers shortly before the president's address. "He said nothing," Fleischer said.

Bush likened the Iraq threat to those posed by perpetrators of genocide in the last century. "In this century, when evil men plot chemical, biological and nuclear terror, a policy of appeasement could bring destruction of a kind never before seen on this earth," he said.

"Responding to such enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense, it is suicide," Bush said. "The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now."

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