President Bush is pressing the need for a strong, unified stand on Iraq as the leaders of NATO member countries gather in Prague for an alliance summit. But, the president says each country must make its own decision about the possible use of force, as a last resort, to disarm Baghdad.
The president says if the world stands united, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein might choose to disarm. "If the collective will of the world is strong, we can achieve disarmament peacefully," Mr. Bush said.
At the same time, Mr. Bush says he will turn to force, if necessary. He says he hopes other countries will join what he calls "a coalition of the willing."
"And at that point in time, all our nations - we will consult with our friends and all nations will be able to choose whether or not they want to participate," the president said.
The president leaves no doubt he will talk with other leaders in Prague about Iraq. And, yet, he makes clear he will not be seeking a formal show of support from the alliance, should he decide on military action. It is an acknowledgment that at least one NATO member - Germany - stands opposed to the use of force against Baghdad.
Instead, Mr. Bush stresses that, here in Prague, he wants to focus on the main challenges now facing the alliance particularly the terrorist threat. Speaking at a news conference with Czech President Vaclav Havel, he called it an historic meeting in an historic city. "Of course, the key reason we're here is to talk about NATO expansion and the benefits of NATO expansion," he said, " not only to encourage the spread of freedom in Europe, but also to be able to deal with the true threats we face, in order to defend our freedoms."
The Prague Summit is expected to invite seven central and Eastern European nations to join NATO continuing the process begun in 1999 when Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic became the first former Warsaw Pact nations to achieve membership in the alliance.
President Bush noted the Prague meeting will also take up the creation of a new NATO rapid-deployment force that could be sent outside Europe as part of the war on terrorism. "It's very important for us to recognize that in order for NATO to be relevant as we go into the future, the military capacities of NATO must be altered to meet the true threats we face," said Mr. Bush.
The summit is a living reminder of the terrorist threat facing the allies. Security is extremely tight, with 12,000 police and more than 2,000 armed soldiers deployed in Prague, as surveillance helicopters and U.S. military fighter jets keep watch from the skies.