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Bush Optimistic on Prospects for Democracy in Iraq - 2003-11-16

U.S. President George Bush has expressed confidence that it will not take many years for democracy to take root in Iraq. Mr. Bush has discussed Iraq and other issues on British television ahead of this week's visit to Britain.

In a wide-ranging interview broadcast Sunday, President Bush said he is prepared for the mass demonstrations planned by British anti-war protesters during his visit to London this week.

Asked by BBC television's David Frost what he would tell the demonstrators if he could speak with them, Mr. Bush recalled the terrorist attacks two years ago on American soil.

"I have learned the lessons of September the 11th, 2001, and that terrorists declared war on the United States of America and war on people that love freedom and I intend to lead our nation, along with others like our close friends in Great Britain, to win this war on terror," said the American leader. "War is my last choice, not my first choice, but I have an obligation as president to keep our country secure."

Mr. Bush was asked if American troops will stay in Iraq for years until democracy is established, and he said it will not take that long.

"We don't think it will be years and years because we believe democracy will take hold in Iraq and we believe a free and democratic Iraq will help change the Middle East," he said. "Freedom is not America's gift to the world, or Great Britain's gift to the world, freedom is the Almighty's gift to everybody who lives in the world."

The president was asked to explain why his relationship with British Prime Minister Tony Blair is so close, given the big differences in their political philosophies. "Tony is a man of strong faith. The key to my relationship with Tony is he tells the truth," said Mr. Bush on the Breakfast with Frost program.

Mr. Bush said he continues to work with Mr. Blair on how to handle the cases of Britons captured in Afghanistan and held at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"I'm working with Tony to come up with a solution that he's comfortable with. These were illegal non-combatants [sic] picked up off of a battlefield. And they are being well-treated, and they will go through a military tribunal at some point in time, which is in international accord, or in line with international accords," said Mr. Bush.

Prime Minister Blair has been under pressure to get the detainees repatriated. British human rights campaigners fear the United States might execute the suspects. Britain bans the death penalty.