Bush says he won't leave U.S. at Saddam's mercy
From John King
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has "no intention of disarming" and presents a direct threat to the United States that must be confronted -- with or without U.N. approval, President Bush said Thursday.
"The risk of doing nothing, the risk of hoping that Saddam Hussein changes his mind and becomes a gentle soul, the risk that somehow inaction will make the world safer, is a risk I'm not willing to take for the American people," Bush said in his prime-time news conference.
"My job is to protect America, and that's what I'm going to do," he said. "I believe Saddam Hussein is a threat to the American people. I believe he's a threat to the neighborhood in which he lives.... I take the threat seriously, and I'll deal with the threat."
Bush stopped short of saying he's decided to take military action against Iraq, and said he still hopes a confrontation can be avoided. However, the president described diplomatic efforts to end the crisis as being in their "last phase," and at times he appeared openly skeptical that war could be averted.
"I wish that Saddam Hussein had listened to the demands of the world and disarmed. That was my hope," he said. "I hope we don't have to go to war. But if we go to war, we will disarm Iraq. And if we go to war, there will be a regime change."
"I know we'll prevail, and out of that disarmament of Saddam will come a better world, particularly for the people who live in Iraq."
Bush also said the United States will push next week for a vote on a new U.N. Security Council resolution, finding Iraq in breach of previous disarmament resolutions, even if it's clear there are not enough votes for it to pass.
"It's time for people to show their cards, let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam."
France, Russia and China, all permanent Security Council members with veto power, have expressed opposition to the resolution, along with Germany, a non-permanent council member. Administration officials had been hinting they might pull the resolution prior to a vote, rather than see it defeated.
Bush also made it clear that though the United States would prefer to work through the United Nations, he is ready and willing to take military action, even if the world body balks.
"I'm confident the American people understand that when it comes to our security, if we need to act, we will act. And we really don't need United Nations approval to do so," he said. "When it comes to our security, we really don't need anybody's permission."
But Bush also said that "when it's all said and done," the United States will have significant international support.
"If we have to use force, a lot of nations will be with us," he said.
The president expressed skepticism that giving U.N. weapons inspectors more time to do their work might lead to disarmament of Iraq, diffusing the crisis without war.
He said that while Saddam was allowing U.N. inspectors to destroy some missiles, the Iraqi president had ordered the production of new missiles. Bush also accused Iraqi operatives of moving biological and chemical agents around once or twice a day and even hiding them inside cars parked in residential neighborhoods to avoid detection.
"If the Iraqi regime were disarming, we would know it, because we would see it. Iraq's weapons would be presented to the inspectors, and the world would witness their destruction," he said. "Instead, with the world demanding disarmament, and more than 200,000 troops positioned near his country, Saddam Hussein's response is to produce a few weapons for show, while he hides the rest and builds even more."
"Inspection teams do not need more time or more personnel. All they need is what they have never received -- the full cooperation of the Iraqi regime."
On Friday, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix will report to the Security Council on the progress of the inspection process. Bush said Blix needs "to answer a single question -- has the Iraqi regime fully and unconditionally disarmed ... or has it not?"
Making his case for the danger Saddam poses to the American people, Bush said he believes Iraq could provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists wanting to attack the United States, as they did on September 11, 2001.
"The price of doing nothing exceeds the price of taking action if we have to," he said. "The cost of the attacks on America on September 11th were enormous. They were significant. And I'm not willing to take that chance again."
But he also reiterated statements made in a speech last week that he believes a post-Saddam Iraq, with democratic institutions, could "serve as a catalyst for change" in the Middle East.
The president said that U.N. inspectors, aid workers and journalists inside Iraq would be warned and given a change to leave before any military action begins.
Bush also praised the cooperative efforts that led to the recent capture of al Qaeda operations chief, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and said, "We must smoke these al Qaeda types out one at a time."
When asked about North Korea, he said he was concerned about the Communist country developing nuclear weapons because it may choose to use them or sell them to dictators who might use them "to impose their will on the world."
The president said the United Nations, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea were all discussing the matter and he was hopeful for a diplomatic solution.