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U.S./U.K.: Bush Offers Strong Defense Of Iraq War During State Visit

Prague, 19 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush, on the first full day of a state visit to Britain, today vigorously defended the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In a speech at London's Whitehall Palace, Bush acknowledged disagreements in the U.S. and Britain over the war, but said he is committed to building democracy in Iraq. "There were good-faith disagreements in your country and mine over the course and timing of military action in Iraq," he said "Whatever has come before, we now have only two options: To keep our word or to break our word. The failure of democracy in Iraq would throw its people back into misery and turn that country over to terrorists who wish to destroy us. Yet, democracy will succeed in Iraq because our will is firm, our word is good, and the Iraqi people will not surrender their freedom."

He continued, "We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq and pay a bitter cost of casualties and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins."

The U.S. and Britain were the two leading proponents of the war in Iraq. They led a coalition of mostly smaller countries, despite fierce opposition led by France, Germany, and Russia.

Bush said the use of force is sometimes necessary. "The people have given us the duty to defend them and that duty sometimes requires the violent restraint of violent men," Bush said. "In some cases, the measured use of force is all that protects us from a chaotic world ruled by force."

Bush also appealed to the shared democratic heritage of the U.S. and Britain, saying the two nations are united by more than the simple pursuit of joint interests. "The United States and Great Britain share a mission in the world beyond the balance of power or the simple pursuit of interest," he said. "We seek the advance of freedom and the peace that freedom brings. Together our nations are standing in sacrificing for this high goal in a distant land at this very hour, and America honors the idealism and the bravery of the sons and daughters of Britain."

Bush also used the speech as an opportunity to urge Israel to end what he called "the daily humiliation of Palestinians." He said Israel should not prejudice final peace talks by erecting "walls and fences" -- a reference to Israel's controversial construction of a security fence around its territory to prevent the entry of suicide bombers. The U.S.'s Middle East policy has been heavily criticized in Britain as being biased toward Israel.

Bush and his wife, Laura, began the day at Buckingham Palace, where they were greeted by Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip. Bush received a ceremonial cannon salute. Bush and his wife also met with Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. and other officials.

Buckingham Palace, the Queen's London residence, was also the setting today of a major embarrassment for British security services. The "Daily Mirror" newspaper reported that amid unprecedented security ahead of Bush's visit, an undercover journalist had succeeded in getting a job at the palace using forged credentials. The report was intended to highlight a potential serious lapse in security. The British government today said it will launch a full investigation.

Earlier today, Blair spoke to Parliament. He told the members of Parliament (MPs) that close U.S.-British relations work to the benefit of both countries and said the two nations must band together to fight terrorism.

"The people who are killing people in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, other parts of this world, in these appalling acts of terrorism, they aren't the British, they aren't the Americans -- they are these appalling terrorists, linked to some of these appalling regimes, and it really is about time we started to realize who our allies are, who our enemies are, stick with the one and fight the other!" Bush said.

Tomorrow, Bush will meet with families of British soldiers killed in the Iraq war.

The day will also mark the focal point of antiwar protests. The lead organizer, the Stop the War campaign, says some 100,000 people are expected to take part in protests that will include toppling a giant makeshift statue of Bush in central London's Trafalgar Square.