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Bush Says Saddam Hussein Poses Direct Threat to U.S.

By Karen DeYoung
THE WASHINGTON POST -- CINCINNATI

President Bush, in a sober but chilling address, warned the public tonight that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is “a murderous tyrant” who poses an immediate threat to the United States and American lives.

Seeking to rally support for a congressional resolution that would authorize him to order unilateral U.S. military action against Iraq, Bush said, “While there are many dangers in the world, the threat from Iraq stands alone -- because it gathers the most serious dangers of our age in one place. Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant who has already used chemical weapons to kill thousands of people.”

Bush said that the resolution did not mean that war with Iraq was “imminent or unavoidable.” But, he said, it would show “the United Nations, and all nations, that America speaks with one voice.”

Bush spoke in a televised speech aides said was scheduled so that he could explain his Iraqi policy directly to the American people. While it is seems likely that the resolution Bush seeks will pass both houses of Congress by the end of the week, polls show that public support is waning. Most Americans still support war against Iraq, but have questions about its timing and the lack of support from allies. Monday night, Bush’s Democratic critics in Congress said they remained unconvinced of the need to strike immediately.

As he made his case, Bush offered little new information, borrowing phrases from his U.N. address last month, remarks he made on the congressional resolution at the White House last week, and recent Capitol Hill testimony and news conferences by members of his Cabinet.

Instead, he systematically went through the now-familiar case against Iraq: Saddam’s long defiance of United Nations disarmament demands and barring of U.N. weapons inspectors; evidence that he has stores of chemical and biological weapons and is seeking to build a nuclear device; his repression against his own people. And he repeatedly emphasized that a failure to act quickly could disrupt the balance of power in the Middle East and cost American lives.

Among the measures he is seeking, Bush said, “the Iraqi regime must reveal and destroy, under U.N. supervision, all existing weapons of mass destruction.”

Since the administration began its push on Iraq, both in Congress and the U.N, Baghdad has alternately said it is ready to cooperate, and that it will never succumb to U.S. pressure. Iraq has said it has no weapons of mass destruction, and no interest in acquiring them.

The administration has left open the question of whether Iraqi disarmament was sufficient to satisfy U.S. concerns, or, some top officials have insisted, only “regime change” would remove the threat Iraq poses.

“I hope this will not require military action,” Bush said, “but it may. And military conflict could be difficult. An Iraqi regime faced with its own demise may attempt cruel and desperate measures,” he said.

But the president insisted it would be foolhardy to delay action. “Some have argued we should wait -- and that is an option. In my view, it is the riskiest of all options -- I am not willing to stake one American life on trusting Saddam Hussein.”