NEW YORK – While he congratulated federal lawmakers for authorizing the use of force if needed against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, President Bush said the threat Saddam poses is "grave and growing."
But he assured the Iraqi people they would find a friend in the United States if military force is needed to oust Saddam and that they would receive assistance in rebuilding their country and morale.
Saddam’s regime "has a horrible history of striking without warning," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "We cannot leave the future of peace and the security of America in the hands of this cruel and dangerous man. This dictator must be disarmed."
After much debate, congressional leaders this week agreed on a resolution authorizing the use of force to oust Saddam if necessary. Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said separate votes would be held next week on two alternatives that would put more limits on presidential authority.
"It's up to us today to send a message to the world," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. He predicted Congress would give Bush the authority he wants by next week and "set in motion the beginning of the end of Saddam Hussein."
Iraq has defied its pledges to the United Nations to reduce its stockpiles of weapons and is rebuilding facilities to make more biological and chemical weaponry, Bush argued. Saddam is "perhaps the world’s most brutal dictator" who allegedly has already committed genocide with chemical weapons, ordered the torture of children and instituted the systematic rapes of the wives and daughters of his political opponents, Bush said.
Although Bush said "we will never seek war unless it is essential to security and justice," he added, "delay, indecision, and inaction are not options for America, because they could lead to massive and sudden horror."
Bush promised to help rebuild the foreign nation, however, if military force is needed to oust Saddam.
"We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people," he stressed. "They are the daily victims of Saddam Hussein’s oppression, and they will be the first to benefit when the world’s demands are met."
Bush said members of Congress can show they are serious about ridding the world of Saddam’s threat by supporting the resolution next week and sending a message that "his only choice is to fully comply with the demands of the world. And the time for that choice is limited."
Bush urged all Americans to contact the representatives in Congress to make their voices are heard on this issue.
"Supporting this resolution will also show the resolve of the United States, and will help spur the United Nations to act," Bush said.
Bush will give a "major speech" to the nation Monday night to educate Americans on the "growing threat posed by Iraq," U.S. officials said Friday.
Meanwhile, Reuters news service reports that Russia, a veto-holding member of the U.N. Security Council, underlined on Saturday the need for the swiftest possible return of international weapons inspectors to Iraq under their existing mandate.
The United States is seeking to win support from key Security Council members for a tough resolution on new weapons inspections.
Reuters also reports that demonstrators protesting against a possible U.S. strike on Iraq clashed with police on Saturday a few hundred yards away from a meeting by European Union defense ministers on the Greek island of Crete.
Police said the clashes erupted when about 300 leftists and self-styled anarchists carrying anti-war banners tried to break through a police checkpoint blocking access to a hotel in the seaside town of Rethymno, where the informal EU ministerial meeting was taking place.