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Bush Backs NATO Enlargement Plans


President Bush says the addition of seven former Soviet bloc countries strengthens NATO as the alliance takes on new challenges. He spoke at what has been called a "transformational" alliance summit in Prague.

The expansion takes NATO right up to the Russian border. And in a sign that that Cold War is indeed over, it is taking place without serious objection from Moscow.

It's a move that Bush administration officials acknowledge would have been unthinkable not that long ago. And President Bush leaves no doubt he is an avid supporter of NATO's move eastward.

"We believe today's decision reaffirms our commitment to freedom and our commitment to a Europe which is whole and free and at peace," the president said.

In brief remarks to the summit, Mr. Bush said the addition of seven more members strengthens the alliance. Although their military resources are rather limited, he said these countries that once struggled as part of the Soviet bloc bring a certain "moral clarity" to NATO.

They are also sympathetic to the strong stands taken by the Bush administration on terrorism and Iraq. Throughout the summit, Mr. Bush has been discussing the Iraqi problem with the leaders of various NATO countries, and the subject was on the agenda for an alliance lunch that was closed to the public.

The president's staunchest ally is British Prime Minister Tony Blair. They held a one-on-one meeting shortly before the start of the formal summit session. Mr. Bush was asked what he expects Great Britain to do, should he decide to resort to force to disarm Iraq.

"Well, my expectation is, that we can do this peacefully if Saddam Hussein disarms. That's my expectation," he said.

Once again, Mr. Bush warned that should the Iraqi leader defy the U.N. and refuse to give up his weapons of mass destruction, he will face serious consequences.

"If he chooses not to disarm, we will work with our close friends, the closest of which is Great Britain, and we will disarm him," Mr. Bush said.

Prime Minister Blair said Britain will do what is necessary to make sure the will of the United Nations is enforced.

"If he fails to do all he can and it is within his power - to help that process of disarmament through the United Nations, then he will be disarmed by force," Mr. Blair warned. " And that is the clear will of the international community."

President Bush and Prime Minister Blair also spoke out on the latest suicide bombing in Israel an attack on a bus in Jerusalem that left at least ten dead. Mr. Bush said he is "greatly disturbed" by the news, and urged all parties to fight terror. Mr. Blair agreed, saying the bombing underscores the need for action to combat terrorism and help bring peace to the region.

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