Bush to Hussein: Leave Country to Avoid War

March 17, 2003
Posted at: 9:55 a.m. CST

WASHINGTON - Abandoning diplomacy, President Bush  gave Saddam Hussein  a final ultimatum Monday to leave Iraq  or face a U.S.-led war. Bush planned a White House address at 8 p.m. EST to explain his decision.

"He will say that to avoid military conflict Saddam Hussein must leave the country," spokesman Ari Fleischer  said. The White House scheduled the address after U.S. and British diplomats announced at the United Nations  that there would not be a vote on their resolution to give Saddam an ultimatum or face war.

On Sunday, the president and his allies from Britain and Spain announced that they would give the U.N. one day to resolve the diplomatic dispute.

"The diplomatic window has closed as a result of the U.N.'s failure to enforce it's own resolutions for Saddam to disarm," Fleischer said.

He declined to say whether Saddam would be given a deadline. "I will not get into any discussions about when military hostilities may or may not begin," he said.

At the U.N., John Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to the world body, told reporters, "It has been nearly 4 1/2 months since the council unanimously adopted 1441 which found Iraq in material breach and gave it a final opportunity to disarm. The government of Iraq has clearly failed to comply."

Fleischer's call for Saddam's exile echoed Bush's words Sunday at a news conference in the Azores. Speaking of Saddam, the president said, "He got to decide whether he's going to disarm, and he didn't. He can decide whether he wants to leave the country."

Hours earlier, Saddam threatened a wider war if attacked.

"We hope tomorrow the U.N. will do its job," Bush said at a news conference where he and the leaders of Britain, Spain and Portugal met.

Fleischer said U.S. officials were reviewing whether to raise the national terror alert.

First thing Monday, several top administration officials filed into the White House. The group included Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft , Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and FBI  Director Robert Mueller.

Also Monday, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, announced that the Bush administration had advised the agency to start pulling its inspectors out of Iraq.

Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and their summit partners met Sunday at a U.S. air base in the Azores as the American-led military buildup in the Persian Gulf continued. More than 250,000 troops, a naval armada and an estimated 1,000 combat aircraft are in the region, ready to strike if and when the president gives the word.

The American public, by a 2-1 margin, supports military action against Iraq to remove Saddam, a slight increase in support from recent weeks, according to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll out Monday.

French President Jacques Chirac had said Sunday he was willing to accept a 30-day deadline for Iraq to disarm, provided the move was endorsed by U.N. weapons inspectors. "We just feel that there is another option, another way, a more normal war, a less dramatic way than war," he said in an interview on CBS "60 Minutes."

Vice President Dick Cheney brushed aside Chirac's proposal, listing a series of French actions in recent years he said had let Saddam avoid disarmament. And Bush also was scornful of France's role in the diplomatic struggle over Iraq.

Noting he had called earlier this month for Security Council members to take a stand, he said: "France showed their cards. After I said what I said, they said they were going to veto anything that held Saddam to account."

Blair, flying home from the summit Sunday evening, told reporters that diplomats would work through the night to try and find common ground.

"People have got to decide whether they are going to allow any ... resolution to have teeth, to make it clear that there is a real ultimatum in it, and that's what we need to find out overnight," he said. "You cannot have a resolution which simply stipulates further discussion."

In Baghdad, Saddam was unbowed. "When the enemy starts a large-scale battle, he must realize that the battle between us will be open wherever there is sky, land and water in the entire world," he told his military commanders in remarks carried by the official Iraqi news agency.

Saddam also denied his nation possesses chemical weapons, as alleged.

There were unambiguous signs that war could occur within a short period of time.

The State Department on Sunday night ordered nonessential personnel and all family members to leave Israel, Kuwait and Syria in a precautionary move. The departure order updates an advisory last month that authorized those people to leave voluntarily.

Bush said war could be averted if Saddam were to leave the country. There was no indication that would happen, however.

At their summit, Bush, Blair, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso issued a formal statement that said "any military presence, should it be necessary, will be temporary ... Our commitment to support the people of Iraq will be for a long time."

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