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Bush Still Hoping for Peaceful Solution to Iraq Crisis - 2003-01-30

President Bush says the final diplomatic push to disarm Iraq peacefully will last weeks, not months. Mr. Bush also says he would welcome exile for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The president makes clear the window of opportunity for diplomacy is small.

"This is a matter of weeks, not months," the president said.

Speaking during a break in a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, President Bush left no doubt, his patience is running out. He said this issue must be resolved.

When a reporter asked about the possibility of exile for Saddam Hussein, Mr. Bush said he would like to see the dispute over Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction resolved peacefully.

"Hopefully, the pressure of the free world will convince Mr. Saddam Hussein to relinquish power," he said. "And should he choose to leave the country with a lot of the other henchmen who have tortured the Iraqi people, we would welcome that, of course."

The president went on to stress that Iraq must disarm, whether or not Saddam Hussein remains in power. And he vowed to provide humanitarian aid to Iraq, if it becomes necessary to use force.

"Should we require military action, shortly after our troops go in, will go food and medicine and supplies to the Iraqi people," Mr. Bush said.

Earlier, the president directed the State Department to set aside $15 million from its emergency refugee fund for possible use in Iraq. In addition, the White House welcomed a published letter of support from eight European leaders, including Mr. Berlusconi, for the president's tough Iraqi policy.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair also signed the letter, along with leaders from Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. Mr. Blair will meet with President Bush Friday at his Camp David retreat, capping a week that also included a meeting at the White House with Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Saud Al-Faisal.

After the talks, the Saudi official told reporters that the countries of the region remain committed to seeking a diplomatic solution. "We remain hopeful that there will be a way to do so," he said. "We remain confident that the president is going to give the issue the full weight of his judgment."

There have been reports that several Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, have secretly been urging Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq. But the foreign minister said the matter did not come up during his meeting with President Bush.