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March 27, 2003

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Bush, Blair Vow to Persevere in Iraq War
During Meeting at Camp David, Bush and Blair Promise to Persevere in Iraq War

The Associated Press

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CAMP DAVID, Md. March 28

With Iraqi troops dug in around Baghdad, President Bush pledged Thursday to battle Saddam Hussein's forces "however long it takes to win." Bush and British ally Tony Blair said the U.N. could help rebuild postwar Iraq, but left uncertain who would create and run a new government.

Blair, standing alongside Bush at the president's mountaintop retreat, declared in words similar to Bush's that "Saddam Hussein and his hateful regime will be removed from power."

During their overnight meeting in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains, the leaders discussed conflicts in the Middle East as well as Iraq. Strategy sessions about the Iraq battle and postwar plans conjured grainy images of a Camp David retreat 60 years ago, when President Roosevelt met Winston Churchill during World War II.

"For nearly a century, the United States and Great Britain have been allies in the defense of liberty," Blair, Britain's prime minister, said. "We shared in a costly and heroic struggle against Nazism."

The leaders asked the United Nations to restart its oil-for-food program, which fed about 60 percent of Iraq's 22 million people until war shut off the flow. Bush said the issue "must not be politicized."

That was a dig at France, Russia and other anti-war allies who are arguing over how the program should be administered, aides said. They suggested the allies were using the issue to underscore their opposition to the war.

Bush and Blair refused to put a timetable on war, mindful that stiffer-than-expected resistance in southern Iraq and the looming battle for Baghdad could test the patience of their constituents. Amid concerns that the war could last months, Bush said fighting will continue "however long it takes to win."

For months, the president avoided talk of how long and difficult the conflict could be as he tried to rally Americans against Saddam. Looking tired on Thursday, the president bristled at repeated news conference questions about the potential length of fighting.

"However long it takes. That's the answer to your question, and that's what you got to know," he said.

Thumping his lectern, the president added, "This isn't a matter of timetable, it's a matter of victory. And the Iraqi people have got to know that, see. They got to know that they will be liberated and Saddam Hussein will be removed, no matter how long it takes."

Joining the president in front of a field of British and American flags, Blair said he and Bush had decided to seek new U.N. resolutions on humanitarian relief, postwar plans for Iraq and a promise to keep Iraq's territorial boundaries intact.

Blair, under fire at home for backing war in Iraq, has advocated a more aggressive role for the United Nations in administering postwar Iraq than has Bush.

"No doubt the United Nations has got to be closely involved in this process," Blair said.

A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush and Blair agreed in private talks that the U.N. should play a key humanitarian role in Iraq.

They also agreed that the U.S.-British military coalition fighting in Iraq must be in charge of the initial efforts to bring security and stability to Iraq, the official said.

Beyond that, the official said Bush and Blair put off key decisions about political reforms including who creates and controls an interim government and long-term security issues until later in the war. Or even after it.

"There are huge numbers of details to be discussed with our allies as to exactly how that is going to work," Blair said. "The conflict is not yet over."

The leaders discussed plans for postwar Iraq after receiving a joint briefing by their war teams, including by satellite from London, Washington and Qatar. They also spoke by phone with leaders of Australia and Poland, the other nations with combat troops in Iraq.

Bush has not decided how to administer postwar Iraq, officials say, but many top advisers want to limit the U.N.'s participation to primarily humanitarian relief.

Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that while the U.N. should play a role, the burden of war entitled the United States "to have a significant dominating control" over the fate of Iraq.

Blair sidestepped the question of whether such talk could further divide Bush from allies such as France and Russia who blocked a U.N. war resolution but want to play a major role in rebuilding oil-rich Iraq.

"The immediate focus has got to be on the oil-for-food program, because that is the thing we need to get sorted out with the United Nations literally in the next few days," said Blair, who left Camp David to discuss the issue with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

A spokesman for Blair told reporters in London that a draft resolution for the oil-for-food program could be proposed at the United Nations within the next 24 hours.

While the leaders met, Annan told reporters the United Nations wants to resume the program and bring in additional aid from U.N. humanitarian agencies as soon as the military situation permits.

The Security Council is trying to finalize a resolution that would give Annan interim authority to run the oil-for-food program for 45 days.

photo credit and caption:
President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, smile as they face the media following their overnight war summit at Camp David, the presidential retreat 70 miles north of Washington in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains, Thursday, March 27, 2003. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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