Bush adamant on Iraq election schedule
WASHINGTON - President
Bush said Thursday that Iraq's elections must not be delayed from their
scheduled date of Jan. 30, rejecting calls from more than a dozen political
parties there to postpone them until security at the polls can be ensured.
"It's time for Iraqi citizens to go to the polls," Bush told reporters in the Oval Office.
Bush also weighed in on the matter of the election crisis in Ukraine, saying more forcefully than he had previously that other countries must not meddle as that country sorts through the disputed vote.
If there is to be a new election, as many government leaders and Ukrainian demonstrators have demanded, it "ought to be free from any foreign influence," Bush said.
He did not single out any country, but his words seemed to echo those of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, with whom Bush met this week and who explicitly said Russia must not meddle in the Ukrainian matter.
Bush steered gingerly around allegations of corruption in the United Nations' oil-for-food program in Iraq, which first surfaced in January. The charges have escalated. Two weeks ago, a congressional investigation uncovered evidence that Saddam Hussein's government raised more than $21.3 billion in illegal revenue by subverting U.N. sanctions against Iraq, including the oil-for-food program.
Bush did not answer two questions about whether Annan should resign, as Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., has urged. But he said a thorough investigation was necessary to ensure that U.S. taxpayers can "feel comfortable" as their government pays U.N. dues.
"I look forward to a full disclosure of the facts, a good, honest appraisal of that which went on and it's important for the integrity of the organization," he said.
Bush said last week he hoped the elections scheduled for next month in Iraq are not postponed, after 17 political parties in Iraq called on the interim government to put them off for at least six months. Those groups want security at polling places to be ensured.
Thursday, he was more forceful in his remarks on the matter.
"The elections should not be postponed," he said. "It's time for the Iraqi citizens to go to the polls and that's why we are very firm on the Jan. 30 date."
Bush said he had personally approved an expansion of U.S. troop levels in Iraq ahead of the elections. His commanders there had asked for more boots on the ground, and "I've honored their request," he said.
Bush predicted that Iraq's elections would leave the world "amazed that a society has been transformed so quickly."
Bush was more pointed in his comments on the Ukraine, where a disputed runoff election last month sparked massive protests that have paralyzed the government.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday warned that Ukraine's problem must be solved without foreign pressure. While it was delivered in a phone call with the German chancellor, Putin's message appeared aimed more at the United States, seen by the Kremlin as behind a campaign to install Ukraine's pro-Western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko at Ukraine's helm.
On Thursday, Putin sharply criticized the Ukrainian opposition's proposal to hold a repeat of the nation's disputed presidential runoff, telling Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma that a new vote "would yield nothing."
Meeting with Kuchma at a government airport outside Moscow, Putin said he was "surprised" by the idea of repeating the runoff, which Ukraine's opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko is demanding.
Bush has largely confined his comments previously to assertions that the will of the Ukrainian people must prevail, and has said the United States is watching the situation closely.
He was more pointed Thursday about the prospect of a new vote in the Ukraine.
"I think any election, if there is one, ought to be free from any foreign influence," Bush said.
Yet a moment later, he thanked the leaders of Poland and Lithuania and the European Union for their involvement in helping to defuse the situation.
"There's different options on the table and we're watching very carefully
what is taking place," Bush said. "But any election in any country must reflect
the will of the people and not that of any foreign government."