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Bush Seeks NATO Participation If War Breaks Out With Iraq - 2002-11-19

President Bush says he hopes America's NATO allies will join the United States if it becomes necessary to disarm Iraq by force. He spoke in an interview that aired on Czech television shortly before his arrival in Prague for the NATO summit.

Mr. Bush says he hopes America's NATO allies will stand with the United States if he decides to take military action against Iraq.

"I think they will realize it's in the interest of peace and stability that that happen," he said. All the same, the president says no action is likely in the near future. He says for now the focus is on implementing the new U.N. resolution that calls for a tough weapons inspection regime and warns of consequences if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein fails to comply.

"It's not up to me, it's up to him. He said he would disarm and the inspectors are not the issue," he said. "The inspectors are simply a means to determine his willingness. And we'll see. He's had a bad history. He's had 11 years of lying and deceiving, and now it's time to bring him to account, one way or another."

Administration official say they expect the NATO summit to release a political statement backing the U.N. resolution. They say President Bush will bring up Iraq in his bilateral meetings in Prague, but they also say they do not believe the Iraqi threat will be the focus of the summit.

Instead, they point to the new challenges facing the alliance such as combating terrorism and NATO's continued expansion eastward. President Bush told Czech television NATO is America's most important alliance.

"The role of NATO is different as we go into the 21st century," he said. "NATO used to be a way to defend Europe from the Warsaw Pact. But the Warsaw Pact no longer exists. Russia is not an enemy. And we face new threats, and the new threats are global terror."

In Prague, the alliance plans to take steps toward the creation of a rapid deployment force that can play a role in combating terrorism. The president said even the smallest NATO member nations can contribute something to the cause.