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Bush State of Union Address Comes at Crucial Time

President Bush goes before Congress and the American people later Tuesday to deliver his State of the Union address. He will try to build support for action against Iraq, and boost confidence in his handling of the U.S. economy.

This address comes at a crucial time, and could be the most important speech of the Bush presidency.

One year after he declared Iraq to be part of an "axis of evil," Mr. Bush must rally support for possible military action to disarm Saddam Hussein. At the same time, he must convince the American public that the U.S. economy is in good hands.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer says, the section of the speech dealing with Iraq will not include a timetable, nor a declaration of war. He says, the president will focus on the nature of the Iraqi threat, and the need for urgent action.

"I think, the president is going to give an address that is very principled, very lofty in its defenses of freedom, that points out the risks that the United States and our friends around the world face from a leader who has been on a relentless pursuit of weapons that will inflict millions, and hundreds of thousands of casualties, in addition to inflicting terror throughout civilized society, if he is able to have his way," he said.

The speech comes just one day after a report to the U.N. from weapons inspectors on Baghdad's compliance with disarmament demands. The president's comments on Iraq are likely to be the focus of attention around the world. But Ari Fleischer says most of the address will deal with issues that touch the everyday lives of Americans, such as the economy and the high cost of health care.

"I think, the American people have domestic concerns as a Number One priority, and they are going to hear an awful lot about that," he said.

Political scientists say a great deal is at stake for the president. Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says, this State of the Union may be a greater challenge than the speech Mr. Bush delivered to the nation following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He says, at that time, the nation was united, and the course of action was clear.

"Everyone wanted him to succeed, as we all united together. Now, it is not at all clear to everybody what course of action we should take on the foreign or the domestic policy fronts," he said.

He speaks of a much deeper partisan divide in Washington, and public opinion polls that show greater differences among Americans on the best way to handle complex problems at home and abroad.

Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle says, he has some advice for President Bush. Mr. Perle, who chairs a Pentagon advisory board, urges the president to be straight forward and speak directly, especially on Iraq.

"I don't think he is going to practice the usual diplomatic approach of trying to 'sweet talk' the Europeans and others into accepting an American outlook. I think, he has got to make the case for the American position," he said.

This will be the president's second State of the Union address and his fourth speech to a joint session of Congress. The Democratic Party response will be delivered by Gary Locke, the governor of the western state of Washington.