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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Moment of Truth for World

Aired March 17, 2003 - 07:08   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: On what may be the last chance for diplomacy, President Bush is calling today -- quote -- "The moment of truth for the world."
Let's check in with Dana Bash, who is standing by at the White House. She has the very latest for us this morning.

Good morning -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Paula.

Well, we've heard the president talk about ultimatums for Saddam Hussein to disarm. Yesterday, what we heard was an ultimatum for the United Nations. President Bush, along with his key allies, saying that it is time for the U.N. to act, and they made very clear that diplomacy is over; also making clear that they didn't think that there was -- that it was likely that the U.N. would act in the next 24 hours or today.

But Mr. Bush in that show of unity also said that Saddam Hussein does have one option aside from military action, and that is to leave the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Saddam Hussein can leave the country if he's interested in peace. You see, the decision is his to make. It's been his to make all along as to whether or not there's the use of the military. He got to decide whether he's going to disarm, and he didnít. He can decide whether he wants to leave the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, the president arrived late last night back here at the White House. He did make some calls aboard Air Force One, we are told, on his way back to from the Azores. He talked to one of his chief allies who wasn't with him, John Howard, the prime minister of Australia.

But it's important to note that along with the president, he had two important people. He had his speechwriter, and his top advisor who helps him with his speeches, Karen Hughes. We are told that the president could give a speech tonight -- as early as tonight, saying that Saddam Hussein has had his last chance. And that speech, we are told, would provide a signal to people in Iraq, journalists and other folks that need to leave that they need to leave. So, we could see that speech from the president as early as tonight -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Dana Bash, reporting from the White House for us this morning.

Now today's Security Council meetings are expected to be a defining moment in the crisis.

Richard Roth is standing by at the U.N. with more.

Good morning -- Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Paula.

It's likely the divisions in the Security Council will still be on display today. This is the moment-of-truth day, according to President Bush, and it's the last chance for diplomacy. But the U.S. doesn't have the nine votes needed, and it also faces a veto from France and Russia.

French President Jacques Chirac telling Christiane Amanpour that France thinks there's another route other than war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. JACQUES CHIRAC, FRANCE (through translator): France is not pacifist. We are not anti-American either. We are not just going to use our veto to nag and annoy the U.S. But we just feel that there is another option, another way, a less dramatic way than war, and that we have to go down that path. And we should pursue it until we have come to a dead end, but that is not the case yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROTH: France thinks if the U.S. acts without a new resolution, it would be illegal. The U.S. thinks it has the authorization under the resolution passed last November by every country -- Paula.

ZAHN: Let's talk a little bit about the legal ambiguity here. There are a lot of folks saying that if you had a defeat at the Security Council that would make any military action a violation of the U.N. charter. And then a no vote by contrast would create legal ambiguity. What is your understanding of all of this?

ROTH: Well, a lot of debate continues with this. Secretary- General Annan says it's a violation of the charter. The U.S. may withdraw the resolution, though; thus avoiding any type of veto or appearing that it's going around a resolution and just put its hopes on 1441, which every country including Syria approved, which does say that Iraq faces serious consequences if there is no immediate active cooperation. It all depends on how you interpret the rate of cooperation Iraq has been giving.

Chief weapons inspector Blix seems to be pleased with it, but he's asked for more months to confirm Iraqi disarmament.

ZAHN: Any reaction to the U.S. advisory overnight to get the inspectors out of the country?

ROTH: Secretary-General Annan will meet with his top advisors in about two hours. It may come up in the Security Council. Hans Blix says he's promised 24 to 48 hours notice by President Bush. It's expected he already has some notification. But because of the controversy in 1998 when the inspectors were withdrawn without full council authorization or knowledge, they're going to make sure until it's absolutely necessary to withdraw.

ZAHN: Richard Roth, thanks so much.

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