NEW YORK – President Bush said Thursday night that he will insist on a vote in the U.N. Security Council on a final resolution on Iraq, saying that the members of the international body must "show their cards" on how to proceed against the defiant nation and its leader Saddam Hussein.
"No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote," Bush said, referring to the industry term for counting support and opposition. "We want to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council.
"It's time for people to show their cards, to let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam."
The president added that he is not concerned about whether he will appear in defiance of the United Nations.
If we need to act, "We will act, and we do not need the United Nations' permission to do so," he said.
Bush did not give a deadline for military force, saying "we are still in the final stages of diplomacy," but he said the world needs Saddam to answer the "single question" of whether Iraq is "fully and unconditionally disarmed as required by Resolution 1441 or has it not?"
In a free-ranging press conference where reporters were free to ask any questions, only one did not deal directly with war with Iraq. The focus gave Bush the opportunity to list a series of actions Saddam has taken in defiance of international demands for disarmament, saying Saddam is building biological, chemical and other weapons banned under 17 United Nations resolutions.
"Iraq's dictator has made a public show of producing and destroying a few missiles ... yet our intelligence shows even as he is destroying these few missiles he has ordered the continued production of these very same types of missiles," Bush said. "These are the actions of a regime engaged in a willful charade.
"Inspection teams do not need more time or more personnel. All they need is what they never received -- the full cooperation of the Iraq regime," Bush said in his second prime-time press conference since taking office.
The president was speaking on the eve of the latest report by U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix. Blix has said that Iraq is showing "a great deal more" cooperation.
The inspector's report should add fuel to growing opposition in the U.N. Security Council to a resolution authorizing force to disarm Iraq. China expressed its opposition on Thursday. France and Russia have threatened to veto it.
Britain tried to stave off a loss by suggesting that a short deadline be added to the resolution, giving Saddam a few days to prove he has no more banned weapons. U.S. officials have said the United States would be willing to back that if it won support, but doubted that it would have much impact.
The president rejected that America was taking a go-it-alone approach to possible war, saying that many nations recognize the risk to peace and the U.N.'s credibility.
"[Saddam] is trying to buy time. I can understand why. He has been successful with these tactics for 12 years," he said.
Bush said that he will make a decision to attack Iraq based on the oath he took to uphold the Constitution.
"My job is to protect the American people. I used to think that we could contain people like [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein ... but Sept. 11 should say to the American people that we are now a battlefield, that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist organization can be deployed here at home," Bush said.
The president said that even if allies have the same intelligence but do not reach the same conclusion, as commander-in-chief of the United States, he still has a duty to the American people.
"The risk of doing nothing, the risk of hoping Saddam Hussein changes his mind and becomes a gentle soul, the risk that somehow inaction will make the world safer, is not a risk I am willing to take," Bush said.
The president did warn journalists and human rights workers that they should leave and said that he would give warning to weapons inspectors to get out of the country before an attack, adding that he doesn't want to put any innocent civilians in harm's way.
Bush said that he would seek a supplemental appropriations bill when it comes time to pay for the war, adding that the costs of the war cannot be measured purely in dollar terms. Military advisers and experts have put the cost at as much as $100 billion, though no one has said that the total price can be anticipated.
"How do you measure the cost of freedom for the people of Iraq?" Bush asked, saying that money is not the issue, despite the struggling economy.
Bush is considering delivering a major address to the nation next week to explain the need for and risks associated with military action against Iraq, aides said Thursday before the president spoke.
The president did not mention any future discussions, but many analysts predict that a decision to go to war could be only days away.
"I hope we don't have to go to war, but if we go to war ... there will be regime change," Bush said.
In the meantime, Secretary of State Colin Powell was holding several one-one-one meetings in New York with Security Council members, including evening meetings with Spanish and Qatari officials. Both those nations have backed war against Iraq.
Thursday night's event was only the second time the president has held a press conference in the East Room since taking the job. The last was on Oct. 11, 2001 -- one month after the terrorist attacks that hit Washington, New York and Pennsylvania. It was the president's first press conference in four months. He has held seven formal press conferences during his tenure.
"Now was an appropriate time to talk to the American people as directly as possible," press secretary Ari Fleischer said earlier in the day, explaining why the president had decided to answer media questions.
Making an opening statement ahead of questions, Bush praised Pakistani and American officials for the capture of Al Qaeda's No. 3 man Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Mohammed's capture over the weekend was said to be a major blow to the terrorist network. Bush said that 90 nations are working to bust up Al Qaeda, and communication among them is the most important contributor to that objective.
Returning to Iraq, the president said Iraq is a part of the war on terror because it has ties to terrorists and money to arm them.
"We believe his capture will further disrupt the terrorist network and their planning for additional attacks," he said.
On North Korea, the president said that a multilateral fashion is the best way of dealing with that country's decision to pursue nuclear weapons. Calling it a regional issue, Bush said it is in the best interests of North Korea's neighbors to look for a solution.
"In my judgment the best way to deal with North Korea is to convince the parties to assume their responsibility," Bush said.