Bush, Blair pledge victory `no matter how long it takes'

Leaders decline to give timetable

they call for U.N. to resume oil-for-food

War In Iraq

March 28, 2003|By David L. Greene and Mark Matthews | David L. Greene and Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

CAMP DAVID - Refusing to estimate how long the war might last, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain vowed yesterday to sustain the military campaign in Iraq for as long as it takes to oust Saddam Hussein's regime and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction.

The leaders, speaking to reporters during their two-day meeting at this presidential retreat, asserted that stiffer-than-expected Iraqi resistance has not diminished their resolve.

"It isn't a matter of timetable; it's a matter of victory," Bush insisted, jabbing his finger on his lectern for emphasis. "Saddam Hussein will be removed, no matter how long it takes."

The two close allies and their advisers have faced pointed questions in recent days about whether the war could drag on for much longer than many people had been led to believe.

Polls showed that Americans and Britons had taken signals from their leaders that the war would be swift and relatively bloodless for their troops. Though the war has lasted only a little more than a week, polls show that tough Iraqi resistance, especially from paramilitary forces waging a kind of guerrilla campaign, has led to fears that the war could be long and difficult.

The president seemed to acknowledge that reality, warning, "The campaign ahead will demand further courage and require further sacrifice."

Analysts have said Americans would be less likely to support war if it persisted for months. The war was already a political risk for both leaders, in the face of sharp international opposition, and the risk would likely grow if the conflict raged on.

Blair said the duration of war is "not set by time" but "by the nature of the job." The coalition, he added, made substantial progress in the first week, including a fast movement of American and British forces toward Baghdad, the securing of oil fields and the hampering of Hussein's ability to fire missiles at Israel from western Iraq.

"There is a massive amount that has been achieved," Blair said. "Now, we will carry on until the job is done."

The two also called for the United Nations to resume its "oil-for-food" program, which aids a majority of Iraq's population but was suspended once war broke out. The program is likely to restart by next week.

Bush and Blair highlighted their agreement on that program but were not eager to discuss their differences over the United Nations' role in a postwar Iraq.

Blair wants the world body to play a central role in rebuilding Iraq and establishing a new government. Bush is thought to favor a smaller role for the United Nations, and a larger one for the United States.

A senior Bush administration official said last night that the president agrees with Blair that the United Nations should endorse a postwar administration, "but what will be a post-conflict administration we're going to have to wait and see until we're on the ground."

Pressure mounted on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, for the administration to step up diplomatic efforts at the United Nations to reach a broad agreement on governing a postwar Iraq.

More than 40 House Republicans and Democrats wrote to Bush, urging him to seek a new Security Council resolution to ensure swift humanitarian relief and to set the terms for governing Iraq under U.N. auspices. The lawmakers, including Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland, the Democratic whip, said that such action by the United States would help heal wounds at the United Nations.

Bush and Blair, speaking to reporters inside a helicopter hangar at this retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains, appear to have developed a close bond over the past two years, and especially over the past few months. They have stood together while enduring stiff opposition to war from other countries. But they have not wavered from their insistence that Hussein's hold on power threatens the world.

The leaders seem natural now speaking alongside each other and at ease in different roles.

Bush often frames issues in stark terms of good and evil, with a plain-spoken forcefulness that his aides say mirrors President Ronald Reagan's style in confronting communism. Blair tends to speak in more nuanced ways but is just as insistent on confronting Hussein's regime.

Blair acknowledged that the conflict has angered traditional allies of the United States and Britain. The rift, he said, will have to be addressed and dealt with - but only after Hussein's regime is toppled.

"There is no point in hiding it - there has been a division," Blair said. But "if the world walks away from the security threat facing us, and if we back down and take no action against Saddam, think of the signal that would have sent right across the world to every brutal dictator, to every terrorist group."

Asked why many Western allies were not supporting the war, Bush seemed a bit irritated that the issue continues to come up.

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