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Bush Meets With Cabinet One Day After Announcing Start of Iraq Military Action - 2003-03-20


President Bush met with his cabinet at the White House Thursday, as U.S.-led forces sent sea-launched cruise missiles into Baghdad and began moving into Southern Iraq. It was Mr. Bush's first public event since announcing the start of military action.

The president conferred with all his cabinet secretaries, to emphasize to the nation that he is focusing on both the war and his domestic agenda.

He told reporters they talked about the administration's strategies to keep the peace, provide for national security and better the lives of the American people.

"This cabinet is confident about the future of this country. We are confident we can achieve our objectives," he said.

But there was no doubt, war with Iraq dominated this meeting. President Bush praised the troops now serving in the Gulf, saying America sent its finest into harm's way. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld briefed the cabinet on military matters, and Secretary of State Colin Powell talked about efforts to forge a coalition to confront Iraq.

The president said that coalition is "ever growing." He said "over 40 nations now support our efforts. We are grateful for their determination and appreciate their vision and we welcome their support."

There has also been a wave of criticism from abroad of the president's decision to launch military action. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for one, said the war is not justified and should be brought to a swift conclusion.

But when asked about a possible split with Moscow, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, overall, ties with Russia remain strong.

"In the many conversations that President Bush has had with President Putin, the two of them have stressed that while on this issue they disagree about whether the use of force is appropriate to disarm Saddam Hussein," he said, "relations between the United States and Russia are too important for anyone to let them be damaged and the president doesn't believe they will be."

Mr. Fleischer said President Bush is continuing to make a large number of telephone calls to foreign leaders about Iraq. The White House spokesman also offered praise for the vote in the Turkish parliament to permit U.S. military over flights. And he said that while the main invasion of Iraq is still in the offing, the U.S. military needs no further orders from the president to proceed.