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Bush Reviews Military Plans As Deadline for Saddam Nears - 2003-03-19

President Bush is reviewing plans for military action against Iraq as his deadline nears for Saddam Hussein to leave power. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush is working closely with military planners to decide on the timing of an attack against Iraq.

The president has given the Iraqi leader until 0100 UTC Thursday to step down or face a U.S.-led invasion to topple the government and disarm the military.

As that deadline approaches, Mr. Fleischer said there is no indication that Saddam Hussein will yield power, and the president is working on the assumption that force will be necessary.

President Bush will again address the nation on that use of force, but White House officials will not say whether the Oval Office speech will be before or after the fighting starts.

Mr. Fleischer would not say whether the president intends to mark the passage of his Iraqi ultimatum which expires at 8:00 p.m. Washington time.

"Eight o'clock tonight the American people will know [that] Saddam Hussein has committed his final act of defiance. The president has urged Saddam Hussein to leave the country so that military conflict can be avoided. At eight o'clock we will know whether Saddam Hussein has chosen to do that or not. We have no indications that he has chosen to do that, unfortunately," Mr. Fleischer said. Mr. Bush had no public events on his schedule, but he met with the vice president, defense secretary, secretary of state and other members of his security cabinet. He also met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to discuss increased risks of terrorist attacks. Mayor Bloomberg says Mr. Bush appears determined to act.

"The president has made his decision. He said, clear, the other night Saddam Hussein had 48 hours to leave or we were going to take military action. And I think at this point the debate is over," Mayor Bloomberg said.

The president sent formal notice to the U.S. Congress that diplomacy has failed to disarm Iraq. In compliance with a resolution authorizing his use of force, President Bush said "further diplomatic and other peaceful means alone" will not protect the country from Iraqi threats.

Mr. Bush has said Iraq could help terrorists use weapons of mass destruction. Iraq says it has no illegal weapons and rejects the president's demand that Saddam Hussein step down.