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Bush Shrugs Off Global Anti-War Protests By: Steve Holland
Reuters | Tuesday, February 18, 2003


President Bush on Tuesday shrugged off global protests against a possible U.S.-led war with Iraq and the White House said a new U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing military force could be proposed this week.

In a huge wave of demonstrations not seen since the Vietnam War, more than 6 million peace protesters took to the streets in 600 towns and cities from Cape Town to Chicago on Saturday.

Bush told reporters that "democracy is a beautiful thing and people are allowed to express their opinion" but that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is a risk to peace.

"Evidently some in the world don't view Saddam as a risk to peace. I respectfully disagree," Bush said.

He added: "War is my last choice, but the risk of doing nothing is even a worse option, as far as I'm concerned. I owe it to the American people to secure this country. I will do so."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the United States may propose a new U.N. resolution authorizing military force as early as this week but possibly next week.

"The timing will be determined as a result of ongoing conversations within our government and our allies," Fleischer said. "I think it's going to be a relatively simple resolution, not very lengthy."

France, Russia and China, who are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council along with the United States and Britain and thus hold veto power, have insisted that U.N. weapons inspections be given more time.

Bush made clear he would prefer a new resolution in support of resolution 1441 approved in November, but that he is prepared to act with a coalition of like-minded nations with or without U.N. backing. He will meet key ally Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar this weekend at his Texas ranch.

DISARMING IRAQ

"We don't need a second resolution. It's clear this guy could even care less about the first resolution. He's in total defiance with 1441. But we're working with our friends and allies to see if we can get a second resolution," Bush said.

He declined to say whether the United States would support a deadline in that resolution giving Saddam a last chance to destroy his suspected weapons of mass destruction or face attack.

"Hopefully Saddam Hussein will disarm. If he chooses not to disarm... we will lead a coalition of the willing to disarm him," Bush said.

Sensitive to the protests, Fleischer said they were comparable to 1983 demonstrations against NATO's decision to deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles, a move he said helped lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"The United States stood on principle, the American president did what he thought was right to preserve the peace. As a result, the Berlin Wall came down, and the message of the protesters, better neutral than dead, turned out to be a false message," Fleischer said.

The United States and Turkey continued negotiations over an aid package for Turkey that Washington has offered in exchange for the right to use Turkish bases in any invasion of Iraq.

"We're working closely with the Turks," Bush told reporters. "We have great respect for the Turkish government. They've had no better friend than the American government, and hopefully we can come up with an agreement that's satisfactory to both parties. We're still working it."

In exchange for Turkish help, the United States is offering Ankara an aid package that includes about $6 billion in grants and up to $20 billion in loan guarantees. So far Turkey has balked at the offering, seeking twice that amount.

Fleischer said negotiations had reached a crucial stage.

"It ... will be settled one way or another rather soon," he said. "We continue to work with Turkey as a friend. But it is decision time. We will find out what the ultimate outcome is."




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