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Iraq: Bush Tells Americans Saddam Is An Imminent Threat

U.S. President George W. Bush is facing some skepticism about his plan to confront Iraq -- militarily if necessary -- over its development of weapons of mass destruction. Last night, Bush addressed the American people in an effort to ease their concerns.

Washington, 8 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- President George W. Bush addressed the American people last night in an effort to convince them of what he believes is the urgency to confront Iraq about its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and to go to war over the issue if necessary.

Speaking from Cincinnati, Bush said Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein, poses a unique threat to the Middle East, to the United States, and to the world. "While there are many dangers in the world, the threat from Iraq stands alone because it gathers the most serious dangers of our age in one place. Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant [Hussein] who has already used chemical weapons to kill thousands of people," Bush said.

Bush said the United States and the world cannot afford to wait -- as some have suggested -- for Saddam to abandon his programs of weapons of mass destruction, as required by the United Nations under the terms of the cease-fire that ended hostilities in the 1991 Gulf War. "The longer we wait, the stronger and bolder Saddam Hussein will become. We could wait and hope that Saddam does not give weapons to terrorists or develop a nuclear weapon to blackmail the world. But I'm convinced that is a hope against all evidence," Bush said.

But the U.S. president said this urgency does not mean that war is imminent or inevitable. Still, he said, he is prepared to lead a coalition of countries in a military strike against Iraq if necessary.

Bush delivered the speech as the U.S. Congress is in the midst of a debate over whether it should give advance approval to Bush to take whatever action he believes would be appropriate on Iraq.

Some members of Congress -- even a few members of Bush's Republican Party -- say such approval should be contingent upon United Nations approval of any military action. Others argue that to set the country's focus on Iraq would dilute the country's more pressing war against international terrorism.

Responding to these arguments, Bush expressed hope that the UN Security Council would pass a new resolution requiring Iraq to submit to unrestricted, unconditional inspections of any sites suspected of developing nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.

The United States and Britain are now trying to persuade the other three permanent, veto-wielding members of the Security Council -- China, France, and Russia -- to accept such terms. Most observers say they expect China not to oppose the measure and merely abstain. But Russia and France say such a resolution is not necessary.

Bush also contended that Hussein works closely with terrorists, including Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's network that has been blamed for the attacks on New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania on 11 September 2001. There has been no evidence, however, that Hussein was in any way involved in those attacks, and Bush offered none last night.

But Bush said confronting Hussein would strengthen the war against terrorism, not weaken it. "Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror, the instruments of mass death and destruction, and he cannot be trusted. The risk is simply too great that he will use [weapons of mass destruction] or provide them to a terror network. Terror cells and outlaw regimes building weapons of mass destruction are different faces of the same evil," Bush said.

Furthermore, Bush said, not to act against Iraq would simply embolden other renegade leaders, give terrorists greater access to weapons of mass destruction, and leave the world open to their blackmail.

Bush's speech included no new evidence that Iraq was close to creating a nuclear-weapons weapon. But the White House released photos taken by satellite that are said to show two Iraqi nuclear-weapons facilities that have been rebuilt since they were destroyed four years ago. They also show activity at what is described as an Iraqi chemical-weapons plant.

Bush's speech comes at a time when public-opinion polls show that Americans are less worried about any threats Iraq may pose than they are about the weak U.S. economy. Some of those surveyed said they believe a war against Iraq may hurt the economy further.

Many respondents also say they believe that war with Iraq would increase the likelihood of more terrorist attacks against the United States.

Despite the misgivings outlined in these surveys, polls show that Bush's approval rating remains high.