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Iraq: Bush, Blair Affirm Coalition Resolve

Prague, 28 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Saying they were as determined as ever to prosecute the war in Iraq until victory, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair told a joint news conference yesterday their priority remains the welfare and liberation of the Iraqi people.

Blair held two days of talks with Bush and other top U.S. administration officials in a visit to the United States aimed at reaffirming U.S-British unity and perhaps setting the groundwork for a future reconciliation between America and its current opponents in Europe.

At their joint news conference, both Blair and Bush stressed the need for the United Nations to resume Iraq's suspended oil-for-food program. The program uses Iraqi oil revenue to pay for food, medicine, and other civilian goods to ease the impact of sanctions imposed in August 1990 following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The U.S. president said America was ready to begin supplying aid to Iraqis in need, as soon as battle conditions would allow it.

"We are now engaging the dictator's most hardened and most desperate units. The campaign ahead will require further courage and require further sacrifice, yet we know the outcome: Iraq will be disarmed, the Iraqi regime will be ended, and the long-suffering Iraqi people will be free," Bush said.

But Blair, for his part, refused to be drawn out by journalists on whether he had achieved his stated goal of convincing the U.S. administration of the need for a major UN role in any Iraqi postwar administration.

Instead, both leaders reiterated that progress in the ground campaign continues to be steady. "Together, coalition forces are advancing day by day, in steady progress against the enemy. Slowly, but surely, the grip of terror around the throats of the Iraqi people is being loosened," Bush said.

Blair reiterated the coalition's commitment to see this campaign through to its stated goal. "Saddam Hussein and his hateful regime will be removed from power, Iraq will be disarmed of weapons of mass destruction, and the Iraqi people will be free. That is our commitment, that is our determination, and we will see it done," he said.

Both Blair and Bush used graphic examples to illustrate what they said was the brutal nature of the Iraqi regime. Blair accused Iraqi forces of executing captured British prisoners of war. When quizzed by journalists, he did not provide immediate evidence of what had prompted him to make his accusation.