U.S. President George W. Bush used a rare press conference at the White House yesterday evening to make the case again for a tough stance against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Washington, 7 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush says the United Nations, like Iraq, is running out of time. Bush told an internationally televised news conference from Washington last night that the UN Security Council must recognize that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is flouting the will of the international community. If not, Bush said, the United States and select allies are prepared to go to war without them.
The president spoke the night before chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix was to deliver a crucial report to the Security Council on the quality of Iraq's effort to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction.
Blix's report, and a similar assessment by Mohammad el-Baradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, could have great influence on the council's position on Iraq.
Anticipating the inspectors' reports, Bush last night issued this challenge: "In New York tomorrow, the United Nations Security Council will receive an update from the chief weapons inspector. The world needs him to answer a single question: Has the Iraqi regime fully and unconditionally disarmed as required by [UN] Resolution 1441, or has it not?'"
According to Bush, the answer is "no." And he said that Resolution 1441, passed unanimously by the council in November, was Hussein's last chance to conform to 16 previous UN resolutions passed since the 1991 Gulf War that required him to disarm.
Bush rejected arguments that the inspectors need more time to search for the weapons. What they need, he said, is cooperation from the Iraqi government. And he indicated that he is losing patience trying to persuade two traditional allies, France and Germany, as well as Russia and China, to support a new amendment that would clear the way for war. "We're still in the final stages of diplomacy [on Iraq]. I'm spending a lot of time on the phone talking to fellow leaders about the need for the United Nations Security Council to state the facts, which is: Saddam Hussein hasn't disarmed," Bush said.
Germany has joined France, Russia, and China -- three members of the Security Council that have veto power over any resolution -- in vowing to block such a resolution. Bush said he was not concerned about the long-term meaning of the differences between the United States and France and Germany, saying their friendship is strong.
Bush also said the United States, Britain, and Spain, which cosponsored the new resolution proposal, will submit it to the Security Council for a vote even if it appears that it has no chance of passing. He said he wanted other countries to "show where they stand" on Iraq. So far, only four of the 15 council members support it.
But Bush said, as he has before, that in light of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, his administration is committed to protecting Americans from terrorists and those who might arm terrorists with biological or chemical weapons. And he said he needs no one's permission to protect the security of his country.
Bush also reminded his audience that shortly before the Security Council passed Resolution 1441, many questioned whether the measure could muster a simple majority vote. He noted that all 15 members of the council voted in favor of it. And he predicted that if he decides to go to war against Iraq, the United States would not be acting alone, even if it did not have formal UN support. "I think you'll see, when it's all said and done, if we have to use force [to disarm Iraq], a lot of nations will be with us," Bush said.
And, although more than 230,000 U.S. and British troops are positioned in the Persian Gulf region, Bush stressed that he has yet to make a decision on whether to go to war. He said he still hopes Hussein will suddenly change his mind and disarm, or perhaps choose exile.
Ultimately, Bush said, it is up to Hussein whether there is war or not.
The president's news conference was not devoted solely to Iraq. Two questions involved North Korea's recent efforts to pursue nuclear weapons.
Bush was asked about criticism of his administration for refusing to hold direct talks with North Korea, as Pyongyang has demanded. The president replied that it is as much up to North Korea's neighbors as the United States to help defuse the crisis. Specifically, he cited Russia, China, South Korea, and Japan. "The best way to deal with this is in multilateral fashion, by convincing those nations that they must stand up to their responsibility, along with the United States, to convince Kim Jong Il that the development of a nuclear arsenal is not in his nation's interest and that should he want help in easing the suffering of the North Korean people, the best way to achieve that help is to not proceed forward," Bush said.
The Bush administration has said repeatedly that agreeing to direct negotiations with North Korea, which Pyongyang wants, would only be giving in to blackmail.