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Bush signs Iraq war resolution
( 2002-10-17 09:12 ) (7 )

Surrounded by members of Congress, President George W. Bush signs the congressional resolution authorizing U.S. use of force against Iraq if needed, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House October 16, 2002.[Reuters]

President Bush on Wednesday signed a congressional resolution authorizing war against Iraq, and told Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Israel has a right to retaliate if Saddam Hussein strikes his nation now without provocation.

"If Iraq attacks Israel tomorrow, I would assume the prime minister would respond," Bush said in remarks that created confusion about his expectations for Israel if America goes to war. "He's got a desire to defend himself."

In a flurry of activity, Bush tried to use Sharon's visit and the vote of support in Congress to ease opposition at the United Nations for a tough new anti-Iraq resolution. He warned France, Russia, China and other balking allies that Saddam poses a grave threat to their security.

"Those who choose to live in denial may eventually be forced to live in fear," the president said as the United Nations opened two days of contentious debate over his Iraqi plans. In an East Room ceremony to sign the war-making resolution, Bush also said it's time to "fully and finally" disarm Iraq and remove Saddam from power.

After a lengthy meeting with Sharon, the president was asked whether he wanted Israel to refrain from retaliating if Iraq attacks in response to a U.S.-led war. Bush's father persuaded Israel to hold its fire during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Sidestepping the question, Bush said, "First of all, I have told the prime minister that my hope is that we could achieve disarmament of the Iraq regime peacefully."

On a follow-up question, Bush seemed to limit the discussion to the consequences of an immediate, unprovoked attack by Saddam. "If Iraq were to attack Israel tomorrow, I'm sure there would be an appropriate response," he said.

White House officials hastily tried to clarify Bush's remarks, saying he was not giving Israel a green light to retaliate if Iraq attacks in response to U.S. action.

In a war situation, the United States would consult Israel, spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "That is a separate issue from if Iraq tomorrow launched an attack unprovoked, whether they would have a right to defend themselves," he said.

Fleischer would not say whether Bush asked Sharon to hold his fire if attacked by Iraq amid a U.S.-led war.

However, a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sharon would be asked to "understand how we can work together to achieve our big-picture goals" a subtle but unmistakable signal that the United States would prefer that Israel not retaliate.

A senior Israeli official, also asking not to be identified, said Bush did not ask Sharon to show restraint in the face of an Iraqi attack. However, such a request would normally be made by presidential advisers. Sharon met Tuesday with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and he meets Thursday with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Bush assured Sharon that he would get sufficient warning if the U.S. were to attack Iraq, and said America would do everything it could to prevent an Iraqi attack on Israel, the Israeli official said.

If Israel were struck by Iraq, Sharon's government would have a right to defend the nation, the Israeli said.

Flanked by Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell, Bush signed the resolution giving him power to use force against Saddam, if necessary.

The vote was 296-133 in the House and 77-23 in the Senate for the measure allowing Bush to take action against Iraq regardless of sentiments at the United Nations. Bush has threatened to build a coalition of allies outside the United Nations to confront Saddam.

"The time has arrived once again for the United Nations to live up to the purposes of its founding: to protect our common security," Bush said. "The time has arrived once again for free nations to face up to our global responsibilities and confront a gathering danger."

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan backed a new U.N. resolution that would toughen weapons inspections and urged Baghdad to use this "last chance." But leaders from 130 mainly developing countries demanded a peaceful settlement of the U.N. dispute with Iraq.

South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, whose country chairs the movement, urged the council to "seize the possibility of a peaceful solution."

As if in reply, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told military experts in Washington that the United States can't "be hamstrung by the waverings of the weak."

The United States and Britain want a single resolution authorizing military force if Iraq does not comply with weapons inspectors.

China, France and Russia all veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council say Iraq must be given a chance to cooperate with inspectors before military action is approved.

White House officials said Bush was open to compromise, and still hoped a resolution would emerge.

Izzat Ibrahim, vice chairman of Revolutionary Command Council and Saddam's No. 2 man, said: "We hope there will be no new resolution, and if there is, we will deal with it then."



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