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Bush Arrives on USS <i>Abraham Lincoln</i> - 2003-05-01

President Bush will give a nationwide address later Thursday declaring that major combat operations in Iraq are over. The president is aboard an aircraft carrier returning from the war in Iraq.

Onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, President Bush meets with officers and crew returning from more than nine months at sea. As the aircraft carrier moves closer to the Californian port of San Diego, Mr. Bush will make a televised address where he will say most of the fighting in Iraq is finished.

White House officials say the president's comments will not be a formal, legal end to the conflict, as U.S. troops in Iraq are meeting some armed resistance. The wording of the speech appears designed to avoid declaring the war over, which, under the Geneva Convention, would compel the United States to release prisoners of war and stop targeting specific leaders.

U.S. troops have already released some prisoners of war, but they are still searching for many members of the former government, including Saddam Hussein.

Flanked by some of the sailors and pilots who helped topple that government, Mr. Bush is expected to discuss how Saddam's fall has freed the Iraqi people and made the United States safer by removing what he says was the threat that Iraq would help terrorists use weapons of mass destruction.

Because the aircraft carrier is still so far off the coast of California, it is too great a distance for the president to travel in his "Marine One" helicopter. Instead, Mr. Bush flew to the ship in a small, fixed-wing aircraft which was known for the flight as "Navy One."

The USS Lincoln is ending the longest naval deployment by a nuclear powered aircraft carrier in history, having traveled more than 100-thousand miles as part of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

President Bush will spend the night on board the ship, then leave by helicopter before it arrives in San Diego, so as not to interfere with families' reunions.

The president speaks about the economy Friday, in northern California, before traveling to his Texas ranch for meetings with Australian Prime Minister John Howard.