WASHINGTON – President Bush said Saturday there is little reason to hope that Iraq's Saddam Hussein will disarm and avoid a U.S.-led military attack.
Bush's comments, in his weekly radio address, came one day before his Sunday summit to discuss Iraqi diplomacy with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
The meeting in Portugal's Azore Islands was billed by Bush aides as an indication of the president's willingness to go the last mile to win international support to confront Saddam. It also was portrayed as a final chance to salvage a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Yet on the radio, Bush sought to prepare both Americans and Iraqis for a war, saying U.S. troops taking part in any attack would have "every tool and resource" and that every effort would be made to spare innocent Iraqis from harm.
"There is little reason to hope that Saddam Hussein will disarm," the president said.
Foreign and U.S. diplomats said the most likely outcome from the Sunday meeting would be the leaders' decision to abandon their U.N. resolution giving Saddam a March 17 deadline to prove he is disarming, rather than allow the plan to face certain defeat in the Security Council.
If the resolution is withdrawn, war could begin within days, administration officials said.
Bush had pledged to seek a vote, even without enough support. But the White House backpedaled last week and repeated the president's insistence that the United States already has all the authorization it needs to disarm Saddam by force.
The White House has strongly signaled that the summit was hastily arranged primarily at the behest of Blair and Aznar, under fire at home over their alliance with Bush on Iraq and needing political cover.
Still, in his radio address, Bush pressed wavering nations to show "whether their stated commitments to liberty and security are words alone -- or convictions they're prepared to act upon."
"We have seen far too many instances in the past decade -- from Bosnia, to Rwanda, to Kosovo -- where the failure of the Security Council to act decisively has led to tragedy," the president said. "And we must recognize that some threats are so grave -- and their potential consequences so terrible -- that they must be removed, even if it requires military force."
While antiwar protesters rallied near the White House, Bush was at his Camp David, Md., retreat, where he called Blair and another Iraq ally, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a White House spokeswoman said.
Also Saturday, a new poll found that a slight majority, 53 percent, said the United States should take more time to achieve its goals in Iraq before using military force.
About the same percentage of people surveyed said they would support military action by the United States and one or two of its major allies, even without U.N. backing, and 57 percent said Iraq should get only a few more days or until month's end to disarm.
Bush's approval rating in the Newsweek poll was at 53 percent, compared with 61 percent about a month ago and down from a post-Sept. 11, 2001, high of 88 percent.
The poll of 1,004 adults was taken Thursday and Friday and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.