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U.S.: Bush, Blair Defend Iraq War

Washington, 18 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have vigorously defended their decision to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, saying they are convinced the ousted Iraqi regime did amass weapons of mass destruction.

Bush said at a joint White House news conference with Blair yesterday that as long as he is president he will never risk the lives of Americans "by assuming the goodwill of dangerous enemies."

Bush said American and British forces are being tested in Iraq by pro-Hussein insurgents. He said the coalition's enemies are looking for signs of hesitation and weakness but they will find none.

The president said American and British intelligence made a strong case that Hussein was a threat to security and peace. Bush said he strongly believes Baghdad was trying to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program and that after the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, "it became clear that Saddam Hussein was much closer to developing nuclear weapons than anybody ever imagined."

Earlier, in a speech to the U.S. Congress, Blair said history will forgive the United States and Britain for invading Iraq even if it turns out that charges of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were wrong.

"Can we be sure that terrorism and weapons of mass destruction will join together? Let us say one thing. If we are wrong we will have destroyed a threat that at its least is responsible for inhuman carnage and suffering. That is something I am confident history will forgive. But if our critics are wrong, if we are right -- as I believe with every fiber of instinct and conviction I have that we are -- and we do not act, then we will have hesitated in the face of this menace when we should have given leadership. That is something history will not forgive."

No such weapons have been found so far. The issue has been a major justification by the two countries for going to war.

In his speech, Blair said the coalition has promised a democratic Iraq and that pledge will be delivered.

Blair urged the United States not to give up on Europe because of disagreements with Germany, France, and Belgium over the war. He said America must listen as well as lead.

"Let us start preferring a coalition and acting alone if we have to, not the other way around. True, winning wars is not easier that way, but winning the peace is."

The prime minister also said international terrorism will not be defeated without achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He called on the entire Arab world to recognize Israel and stop teaching hatred. At the same time, Blair said the suffering of innocent Palestinians must also stop.

Blair was the first British prime minister to address a joint meeting of Congress since Margaret Thatcher in 1985.