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'If We Need to Act, We Will Act,' Even Without UN Approval, says Bush - 2003-03-07

President Bush says Saddam Hussein still has not disarmed and a decision by the United Nations on Iraq is just days away. The president also talked about relations with Turkey and the dispute over North Korea's nuclear program.

The president said the world has arrived at an important moment. He said Saddam Hussein has not disarmed, the window for diplomacy is closing, and it is time to prepare for the possibility of war. "If the world fails to confront the threat posed by the Iraqi regime, refusing to use force even as a last resort, free nations would assume immense and unacceptable risks," he said.

Mr. Bush spoke on the eve of a crucial meeting of the U.N. Security Council, which is convening to hear a report from the chief weapons inspector for Iraq, Hans Blix.

The White House is trying to convince reluctant council members to pass a resolution vowing to enforce existing disarmament demands. But France, Russia, Germany, and others say such a resolution would only be a prelude to war, and they want to give inspections more time.

Mr. Bush acknowledged the stakes are high. He said he does not worry others will find the U.S. "defiant" if it acts outside the U.N. to disarm Iraq. "I am confident the American people understand that when it comes to our security, if we need to act we will act, and we really do not need United Nations approval to do so," he said.

The president said consultations continue, but diplomacy is nearing an end. He stressed no matter what happens, the United States will call for a vote next week on the new resolution it submitted with Britain and Spain.

He said France, Russia, and others on the council at odds with his tough stand on Iraq remain U.S. allies, as does Turkey. The Turkish parliament recently rejected a motion to permit more than 60,000 U.S. troops to be deployed on its soil for a possible invasion of northern Iraq. But the president stressed U.S. ties with Ankara remain strong. "Turkey is a friend. They are a NATO ally. We will continue to work with Turkey. We have got contingencies in place that, should our troops not come through Turkey, not be allowed to come through Turkey. And no, it will not cause any more hardship for our troops," he said.

President Bush talked in optimistic terms about the war on terrorism. He made specific mention of the weekend capture of a chief al-Qaida operative in Pakistan. But he stressed that combating terrorism means more than breaking al-Qaida, or finding its leaders. "Iraq is a country that has got terrorist ties, it is a country with wealth, it is a country that trains terrorists, a country that could arm terrorists," he said. "And our fellow Americans must understand in this new war against terror, we not only must chase down al-Qaida terrorists, we must deal with weapons of mass destruction as well."

Mr. Bush was then asked about North Korea and its nuclear weapons program. He said he remains determined to seek a diplomatic, multilateral solution, even though Pyongyang is insisting on direct negotiations with the United States. "We are working the issue hard, and I am optimistic we will come up with a diplomatic solution. I certainly hope so," he said.

The president said he is concerned that North Korea could share its weapons of mass destruction with others. He said Pyongyang might even sell them to dictatorships like Iraq that could put those weapons in terrorist hands.