Accessibility links

Breaking News

U.S.: Bush Says War With Iraq Is His 'Last Choice,' But He's Prepared For Battle

U.S. President George W. Bush says if war with Iraq is necessary, the United States and its allies would move swiftly and with force. At a news conference yesterday in Washington, Bush also warned Iraqi generals that they will be held to account for their actions, and he told the people of Iraq that there is a better life than the one they live now.

Washington, 8 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush says war against Iraq is not his "first choice," but that he is prepared to choose war as a way to ensure peace.

At a White House news conference yesterday, Bush was questioned several times about the propriety of possibly making a preemptive military strike against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. One questioner suggested that such an action would be a violation of international law, and another wondered whether it might incite terrorist attacks.

Bush said it was important for all to understand that his administration does not want war, but it is prepared to go to war if necessary. "War is not my first choice; it's my last choice. Nevertheless, it is an option in order to make the world a more peaceful place," Bush said.

Bush said he understood a military attack on Iraq might anger some in the Arab or Islamic world. But he added that he believed any action he takes may anger someone, and that is no reason to avoid what he said was proper action.

He said that to do nothing about Iraq would allow Hussein to proceed with plans to build a nuclear bomb and would only invite the eventual possibility of an attack with that weapon. "There's risk in all action we take. But the risk of inaction is not a choice as far as I'm concerned. Inaction creates more risk than doing our duty to make the world more peaceful," Bush said.

Bush said it is important to understand that he has been trying to get other countries to join him -- under the umbrella of the United Nations -- in persuading Hussein to give up his nuclear-, biological-, and chemical-weapons programs.

He said that is why the United States and Britain have co-sponsored a proposed UN Security Council resolution that would impose a tough weapons-inspection regime and warning of consequences if Iraq does not comply.

Of the five permanent members of the Security Council, which have the power to veto any resolution, France and Russia have resisted language suggesting that noncompliance would automatically trigger military action. Bush said he had spoken by telephone with the presidents of France and Russia, Jacques Chirac and Vladimir Putin, respectively. He did not characterize the conversations but indicated that the United States and Britain are prepared to bring the proposed resolution to a vote today.

Bush expressed frustration at what he said was Hussein's noncompliance with earlier agreements to disarm. Bush said the Iraqi president has ignored 16 Security Council resolutions.

Now, the U.S. president said, it is time to pass a resolution on Iraqi disarmament that is backed up by the threat of punitive action. "Once again, we expect Saddam to disarm. This would be the 17th time [the UN passed a resolution] that we expect Saddam to disarm. This time we mean it. See, that's the difference, I guess. This time it's for real. And I say it must not have been for real the last 16 times because nothing happened when he didn't. This time [if Saddam does not comply], something happens," Bush said.

One reporter asked why Bush is prepared to go to war against Iraq, which is not believed to have developed a nuclear bomb yet, but is not threatening war against North Korea, which has acknowledged that it has nuclear weapons. Bush replied that the two situations are not identical. "We'll deal with each threat differently. Each threat requires a different type of response," Bush said.

Bush said his response to the North Korean threat is to join with other Asian countries in an effort to convince Pyongyang that it must abandon its nuclear-weapons program if it wants to join in what he called "the family of peaceful nations." He recalled that Chinese President Jiang Zemin, during his visit to Bush's Texas ranch last month, said Beijing wants the Korean peninsula to be free of nuclear weapons.

Bush also addressed domestic U.S. issues, in particular the success of his Republican Party in regaining control of both houses of Congress. He said he hopes Congress will now act quickly to establish a Homeland Security Department that is aimed at protecting the country from terrorist threats.