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Bush, Blair Defend Decision on Iraq War - 2003-07-18

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have issued a strong defense of their decision to take military action against Iraq. This, as controversy continues to build concerning the evidence they used to make the case for war.

They met at a difficult time, as opposition figures in both countries question the validity of the evidence, and the high cost of the post-war period.

President Bush says he made the right decision when he ordered U.S. troops into action against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Standing before White House reporters with Prime Minister Blair, he made clear he has no regrets.

"Given Saddam's history of violence and aggression, it would have been reckless to place our trust in his sanity or his restraint," said Mr. Bush. "As long as I hold this office, I will never risk the lives of American citizens by assuming the goodwill of dangerous enemies."

Mr. Blair picked up on the theme. He said there is a new reality in the world since September 11, 2001, when terrorists struck the United States - and a new kind of threat.

"When you lead countries as we both do and you see the potential for this threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction to come together, I really don't believe that any responsible leader could ignore the evidence that we see," he said.

The prime minister stressed he stands by evidence obtained by British intelligence dealing with Iraqi attempts in Africa to buy uranium, a key component of nuclear weapons. Some of the documentation backing up the allegation was declared fraudulent by the U.N.'s atomic watchdog agency. And the inclusion of the accusation in President Bush's State of the Union address in January has been called into question by critics who charge he wanted to hype the case for war.

When asked if he takes responsibility for including the controversial words in the speech, the president turned the question around, saying he takes responsibility for sending U.S. troops into action.

"I take responsibility for making the decision, the tough decision, to put together a coalition to remove Saddam Hussein, because the intelligence - not only our intelligence, but the intelligence of this great country [Britain] - made a clear and compelling case that Saddam Hussein was a threat," said Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bush emphasized once again that he still believes the Iraqi regime possessed biological and chemical weapons, and wanted nuclear arms. None has been found since the end of major combat. The president said the skeptics must realize it will take time to get answers.

"We will bring the information forward on the weapons when they find them. That will end all this speculation. I understand there has been a lot of speculation over in Great Britain," he said. "We have got a little bit of it here about whether or not the actions were based on valid information. We can debate that all day long until the truth shows up!"

At their appearance at the White House, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair went out of their way to show solidarity. They stood, literally and rhetorically, shoulder to shoulder.

There was, however, one hint of friction. It came when British reporters persistently asked about two British citizens being held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba after being seized in Afghanistan. It has become a major topic of debate in Britain's parliament, where there are demands for the detainees to be turned over to the British legal system. President Bush's response was brusque, but he did not rule out a solution.

"The only thing I know for certain is that these are bad people," he said. "And we look forward to working closely with the Blair government to deal with the issue."

Mr. Bush said prior to his arrival at the White House, Tony Blair indicated it was a priority. Mr. Blair said they would release some sort of statement on the fate of the detainees on Friday.