Global Policy Forum

Bush Says Ousting Hussein Could Aid Peace in Mideast


By Elisabeth Bumiller

New York Times
February 27, 2003

President Bush declared tonight that removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq would bring stability to the region and could set the stage for peace between Israel and a "truly democratic" Palestinian state.

In his first significant remarks about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in eight months, the president, under pressure from European and Arab nations to re-energize the lapsed Middle East peace negotiations, reaffirmed the United States commitment to a Palestinian state and to a three-year timetable outlining the steps for its creation.

But his nationally televised address focused largely on Iraq. Mr. Bush denounced Mr. Hussein's "torture chambers and poison labs," laid out his expectations for the reconstruction of Iraq and warned the United Nations that it would be greatly diminished if the Security Council did not stand up to Baghdad.

"If the Council responds to Iraq's defiance with more excuses and delays, if all its authority proves to be empty, the United Nations will be severely weakened as a source of stability and order," Mr. Bush said at a dinner of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based policy research center.

He did not detail specific steps toward a Palestinian state, in a plan known as a "road map," as the Europeans have wanted him to do. He said Israel "will be expected to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state." He said Israeli settlement activity "must end" as "progress is made toward peace," but he did not set any deadlines.

Administration officials say Mr. Bush is reluctant to take any steps to upset Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, whose cooperation he needs in a war with Iraq. Specifically, the administration has asked Mr. Sharon not to retaliate in the case of an Iraqi attack on Israel.

Mr. Bush also sought to allay fears that war with Iraq could further destabilize the Middle East and inflame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over all, his remarks were the latest and most dramatic example of the administration's aggressive public relations strategy to win support in the United States and the rest of the world for an American-led attack on Iraq.

Allies of the United States, particularly Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, have repeatedly and insistently told Mr. Bush that he needs to speak of peace as well as war, and that it is essential that he reaffirm his commitment to the negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Tonight, Mr. Bush broadened his case for military action by directly linking a victory over Iraq to the success of those talks.

"The passing of Saddam Hussein's regime will deprive terrorist networks of a wealthy patron that pays for terrorist training and offers rewards for suicide bombers," the president said. Without that Iraqi support for Palestinian terrorism, he added, "Palestinians who are working for reforms and long for democracy will be in a better position to chose new leaders."

Mr. Bush spoke less than two hours before Mr. Hussein appeared on the CBS News program "60 Minutes II" to insist that he would rather die in Iraq than go into exile. "I was born here in Iraq," Mr. Hussein told the CBS News anchor Dan Rather, who conducted the interview. Later, the Iraqi president added, "We will die here."

Administration officials said Mr. Bush's speech, which had been planned for several weeks, was not an attempt to pre-empt Mr. Hussein's interview but was part of the final buildup toward a possible war.

Removing Mr. Hussein, the president said, would inspire democracy throughout the region. "It is presumptuous and insulting to suggest that a whole region of the world, or the one-fifth of humanity that is Muslim, is somehow untouched by the most basic aspirations of life," he said. "Human cultures can be vastly different, yet the human heart desires the same good things everywhere on earth."

The president also used his speech to outline in his most specific terms yet the American commitment to relief aid and the reconstruction of a post-Hussein Iraq, a centerpiece of the administration's strategy to persuade the world that it would not wage war and then walk away. He also sought to answer critics who have warned against the dangers of a prolonged occupation of Iraq, saying American troops would remain in the country only as long as necessary "and not a day more."

"America has made and kept this kind of commitment before, in the peace that followed a world war," he said. "After defeating enemies, we did not leave behind occupying armies, we left constitutions and parliaments."

As Mr. Bush spoke, his ally, Mr. Blair, faced a rebellion within his Labor Party as an estimated 120 Labor deputies in the House of Commons voted for a motion saying the case for military action in Iraq was "as yet unproven."

Warplanes taking part in American-British patrols in southern Iraq today attacked two air defense cable communications sites a day after striking at five missile systems in the north and south, American military officials said.

In northern Iraq today, Iraqi opposition leaders held their first meeting, which went smoothly.

At the United Nations, the United States, Britain and Spain kept up their pressure on six undecided nations to vote in support of a Security Council resolution authorizing an attack on Iraq. Representatives of 10 nonpermanent Security Council members listened today at the Spanish mission's offices to the British envoy, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, and John D. Negroponte, the American ambassador, make their case for the resolution. The meeting came 24 hours after the members met to hear France, Russia and China argue the other side, that weapons inspections should continue at least for several more months.

The United Nations' chief weapons inspectors, Hans Blix and Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, will appear before the Security Council in a session on or close to March 7, a date the Council is expected to set on Thursday.

Ewen Buchanan, a spokesman for Mr. Blix, said today that in a letter dated Feb. 22, the Iraqis said they had found an unexploded missile whose payload contained an unidentified liquid.

Over the last two days, Mr. Blix has made brief statements to reporters at the United Nations giving comfort to each of the diplomatic camps. Today, in response to a question about whether there was any evidence that Iraq wanted to disarm, he seemed to lend weight to the American-British position. "I do not think I can say there is evidence of a fundamental decision," Mr. Blix said, "but there is some evidence of some increased activity."

In his speech, Mr. Bush reiterated that the United States was determined to destroy Mr. Hussein's biological and chemical weapons and also to protect Iraqi oil fields from "sabotage by a dying regime." The money from the oil fields, Mr. Bush said, would be "used for the benefit of the owners, the Iraqi people."

The United States, he said, has "no intention" of dictating the precise form of government on Iraq, "yet we will insure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another."




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