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Bush, Blair Confident Saddam Hussein Will Be Removed From Power - 2003-03-27

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair say there is slow but steady progress in the war in Iraq, and the two leaders vow that Saddam Hussein will be removed from power. They are also calling on the U.N. to resume a program that enables Iraq to sell oil so it can buy food.

They stood side-by-side in a display of unity at Mr. Bush's presidential retreat.

Speaking to reporters at the end of their talks at Camp David, the two leaders reaffirmed their determination to prevail in Iraq.

President Bush said allied forces are advancing day by day. He said he could not predict when victory would come, but stressed coalition objectives are being met.

"Slowly but surely, the grip of terror around the throats of the Iraqi people is being loosened," the president said.

When asked to explain why the fighting appears tougher than many expected, Prime Minister Blair noted that the war has only been going on for about a week and warned against hasty conclusions. He said much has been accomplished so far.

"We will carry on until the job is done. But there is absolutely no point, in my view, of trying to set a time limit or speculate on it because it is not set by time. It is set by the nature of the job," Prime Minister Blair said.

Their talks at Camp David covered not just the status of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but also how best to meet humanitarian needs in Iraq. At their brief press conference, both stressed the need for the U.N. to resume the suspended oil-for-food program. Begun in 1996, the program enables Iraq to sell oil on the world market as long as the profits go to buy food and medicine for the Iraqi people.

President Bush said the need is urgent.

"More than half the Iraqi people depend on this program as their sole source of food. This urgent humanitarian issue must not be politicized and the Security Council should give Secretary-General Annan the authority to start getting food supplies to those most in need of assistance," he said.

Mr. Blair said they would seek new U.N. resolutions on humanitarian relief, and issues related to post-war Iraq. The British favor a far more prominent role for the United Nations in administering a postwar Iraq than does the United States. But the prime minister brushed those differences aside, saying for now, the U.N. must deal with an emergency humanitarian issue.

The focus, the immediate focus, has got to be on the oil-for-food program. Because that is the thing we need to get sorted out with the United Nations literally in the next few days.

Divisions within the U.N. over the need for military action to disarm Iraq have spilled over into negotiations on the status of the oil-for-food-program. After his talks at Camp David, Mr. Blair was heading to New York to discuss the matter with U.N. Secretary-General Annan.