WASHINGTON – The White House took an unusually strong position Wednesday, saying Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein should stand trial for war crimes.
The comments from White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer mark the first time the Bush administration has explicitly said Saddam should be prosecuted for war crimes.
"If Saddam Hussein would leave Iraq and go on trial, the world would be a better place," Fleischer said.
In the past, Fleischer has said the world would likely not "look the other way" concerning atrocities by the regime in Baghdad. President Bush has also warned Iraqi generals that they will face war crimes prosecution if they obey orders to use weapons of mass destruction.
Asked if the world would be a better place if Saddam left Iraq but did not go on trial, Fleischer responded, "Let him start by leaving."
Some daylight appears to have crept between Bush and his staunch ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, over what must happen before any potential military strike against Iraq.
Blair told the House of Commons he wants the U.N. Security Council to issue a second resolution authorizing a military strike. However, Blair also suggested allied nations could act without one.
"I've set out continually, not least in this House, on the 18th December, that in circumstances, however, that there was a breach, we went back to the U.N. and the spirit of the U.N. was broken because there was an unreasonable veto put down, that we would not rule out action in those circumstances ... However, having said that, I believe it's not merely preferable to have a second a U.N. resolution, I believe we will get one," he said.
Fleischer committed to no such process when questioned whether the United States believes a second Security Council resolution would be needed to attack Iraq. Bush has vowed to disarm Iraq even if it requires military action without U.N. approval.
Blair is expected to visit Bush at Camp David on Jan. 31, four days after chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix briefs the U.N. Security Council on what his team of inspectors has found, and not found, in Iraq.
Blair's visit also comes three days after the president's State of the Union address. The president wishes to use all those events to build momentum against Saddam.
Fox News' James Rosen contributed to this report.