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Iraq Journals

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Thursday, March 6

Bush answers critics, vowing to protect Americans and disarm Iraq

By John Yaukey

WASHINGTON President Bush responded to surging international opposition against war in Iraq Thursday with a rare prime-time news conference, telling a TV audience ''the risk that somehow inaction will make the world a safer place is a risk I'm not willing to take with the American people.''

''I will not leave the American people at the mercy of the Iraqi dictator and his weapons,'' he said from the White House. ''My job is to protect the American people and that is exactly what I'm going to do.''

The president said the nation has reached an important moment on two fronts: gathering the national resolve to disarm Saddam Hussein and capturing key al-Qaida operatives, most notably Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks who was arrested Saturday in Pakistan.

Over the last week, the president's high-stakes plan to move quickly and disarm Iraq by force if necessary has suffered multiple blows.

Key members of the United Nations Security Council - France, Russia and Germany - have dug in against war anytime soon, claiming the ongoing weapons inspections in Iraq are working. On Saturday, Turkey unexpectedly rejected a plan for U.S. troops to open an important northern front against Iraq from Turkey.

The president did not set a timetable for military action Thursday, but he has said he wants the bitterly divided Security Council to back a resolution authorizing the use of force sometime ''in the next few days.''

That resolution declares that Iraq has blown its last opportunity to disarm and now must face "serious consequences."

''This is the last phase of diplomacy,'' he said. ''We've tried diplomacy for 12 years.''
But events Friday might complicate the Bush calendar.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix is expected to tell the council that Iraq has made progress in destroying its banned Al Samoud 2 missiles and has come forth with some of the information requested about its chemical and biological weapons.

Blix may go so far as to lay out a list of outstanding issues and propose a timetable for resolving them that could take months.

That's sure to embolden France, Russia and Germany, which together have floated a plan to continue inspections. France and Russia, which have the power to veto council resolutions, have already threatened to shoot down the U.S. use-of-force resolution.

''We will not accept a resolution that authorizes the use of force,'' French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told reporters in Paris, carefully avoiding the word "veto" but clearly implying it.

Bush shot back at European reluctance, arguing "inspection teams do not need more time or personnel, the only thing they need is something they have never received - full cooperation from the Iraqi regime.''

So far, the U.S. use-of-force resolution has solid support only from Spain, Britain and Bulgaria. Passage requires nine yes votes from the 15-member council and no vetoes.

Administration diplomats are feverishly courting six council nations now on the fence: Mexico, Chile, Pakistan, Guinea, Cameroon and Angola.

Even if the U.S. resolution were vetoed, winning nine votes would stand as a moral victory for the president.

Bush said even if his diplomats can't line up enough support for the resolution behind closed doors, he will call for a vote nevertheless.

"Yes, we will call for a vote,'' he said. ''No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote. We want people to stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council. You bet. It's time for people to show their cards and let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam."

After Blix's report to the council Friday, the foreign ministers of the member nations will make statements, setting the stage for what promises to be at least a few days of contentious debate that could end with a final decision on war by the president.

Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday gave lawmakers a taste of the message he'll carry to the council.

"The international community is being tested,'' he said. "Are we going to allow a human being such as Saddam Hussein to continue to develop weapons of mass destruction because it is too difficult to deal with the consequences of the truth?''

If Bush decides to go to war, he said he would warn aid workers and other foreigners in Iraq before bombs started falling.