U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair say the United Nations will play a "vital" role in Iraq once the fighting there is finished. President Bush said he does not know if Saddam Hussein was killed in the Monday bombing of a Baghdad restaurant where top Iraqi leaders were thought to be meeting. But he said he does know that Saddam Hussein is losing power.
"That grip, I used to describe that Saddam had around the throats of the Iraqi people, are loosening," said Mr. Bush. "I can not tell you if all 10 fingers are off the throat, but finger-by-finger, it is coming off. And the people are beginning to realize that. It is important for the Iraqi people to continue to hear this message: we will not stop until they are free. Saddam Hussein will be gone."
At a joint news conference, the president and prime minister both spoke of a "vital" role for the United Nations in supporting a transitional government to replace Saddam Hussein.
Prime Minister Blair said the transitional government will not be dictated by the U.S.- and British-led coalition.
"This new Iraq that will emerge is not to be run either by us or indeed by the United Nations," he emphasized. "That is a false choice. It will be run by the Iraqi people. All of us will do what we can to help in that process of transition."
Prime Minister Blair has been pushing for the United Nations to play a big part in a post-war Iraq. That has met with opposition from some in the Bush Administration because the Security Council failed to endorse this invasion under threat of a French veto.
Before an interim authority is in place, Mr. Bush will appoint a retired U.S. general to run the country, which has raised concern among some European leaders that Washington will continue to hold power in Baghdad.
President Bush spoke directly to those critics, saying the "vital" role he sees for the United Nations is providing food and medicine as well as helping to back an interim authority by suggesting possible members.
"Evidently there is some skepticism here in Europe about whether or not I mean what I say," said Mr. Bush. "Saddam Hussein clearly now knows I mean what I say. And people in Iraq will know we mean what we say when we talk about freedom, and a vital role for the United Nations means a vital role for the United Nations."
After their news conference, the president and prime minister met with Northern Ireland leaders to discuss a five-year-old power sharing deal between Catholics and Protestants. They also discussed plans for Middle East peace before the president's return to Washington.