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War against Iraq not yet Decided, Says Bush - 2002-12-31

President Bush says he still hopes Iraq will give up its weapons of mass destruction voluntarily and avoid military action.

President Bush says the world has come together to send Iraq a "clear signal" that it must give up suspected chemical and biological weapons or face military consequences.

Speaking to reporters near his Texas ranch, Mr. Bush said, so far, the response from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has been "discouraging."

"I hope this Iraq situation will be resolved peacefully," he said. "One of my New Year's resolutions is to work to deal with these situations in a way so that they are resolved peacefully. But thus far it appears, on first look, that Saddam Hussein hasn't heard the message."

Washington says Iraq gave the United Nations an "incomplete" declaration of its weapons programs and believes the country is continuing to hide illegal weapons.

If the Security Council as a whole decides Iraq has violated U.N. resolutions, it will meet to discuss possible consequences. If President Bush is not satisfied with those consequences, he says he will lead his own coalition to disarm Iraq by force. The decision, Mr. Bush stressed, is up to Saddam Hussein.

"The choice is his to make as to whether or not the Iraqi situation is resolved peacefully. You said we are headed to war in Iraq. I don't know why you say that. I hope we are not headed to war in Iraq. I'm the person who gets to decide, not you, and I hope this can be done peacefully," said Mr. Bush. "We have got a military presence there to remind Saddam Hussein, however, that when I say we will lead a coalition of the willing to disarm him if he chooses not to disarm, I mean it."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told Israeli radio Tuesday that he sees no reason for military action against Iraq at this time. He says Iraq is cooperating with U.N. arms inspectors and he is satisfied that they are doing their work without impediments.

Those inspectors said, so far, there is no evidence that Iraq is developing nuclear weapons. President Bush said he is not sure whether Saddam Hussein has nuclear arms but he is concerned because he says Iraq has been "close" to obtaining one in the past. Responding to a questions about the economic impact of a war against Iraq which U.S. officials say could cost as much as $60 billion, President Bush said the country can not afford to withstand another terrorist attack.

"An attack from Saddam Hussein or a surrogate of Saddam Hussein would cripple our economy," he said. "My biggest job and most important job is to protect the security of the American people, and I am going to do that. And I have made the case and will continue to make the case that a Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is a threat to the security of the American people."

President Bush says Iraq is part of an "axis of evil" because it could help terrorists use chemical or biological weapons to attack the United States.