CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Presidential News Conference
Aired March 6, 2003 - 19:45 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening from the CNN Broadcast Center in New York. I'm Aaron Brown.
We are pleased to have you with us for what we expect to be both an interesting and important night. In just a few moments, President Bush will hold only his eighth formal news conference of his presidency. A news conference in primetime, no less, which speaks to the importance of this moment. And it's hard to imagine a moment more important than the one we're in.
The president is expected to use the event to offer an optimistic progress report on the war on terror. To begin the news conference this weekend, as we're sure you know, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the man that U.S. authorities call the "mastermind" behind the 9/11 attacks, was arrested in Pakistan. It's a development that authorities hope will lead them closer to the man at the top of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden.
The president, of course, is also expected to prepare the nation for the seemingly increasing possibility of a war with Iraq, a war that could start quite seen soon. One official says the president will make it clear that time is running out. And it's fair to say that president, as well as the White House, must feel that this sort of give and take with the national press core is necessary to answer many of the questions that people in the country still have about the Iraq policy: Why a war now and the rest.
We are joined tonight in our coverage by our colleague in Washington, Wolf Blitzer. Wolf, good evening to you.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening to you, Aaron. Thanks very much.
Tonight may be the president's eighth formal news conference, but it's only the second time he's held one in primetime. Tonight's event will take place in a familiar and historic location, the East Room of the White House, where so many earlier presidents, of course, have been grilled by reporters. I think we can expect some tough questions for this president tonight.
His aides tell me he spent much of the day preparing. The East Room, by the way, was last used as a backdrop for a presidential news conference on October 11, 2001, exactly a month after the 9/11 attacks. Our senior White House correspondent John King is now standing by in the East Room with a preview. John, begin, please, with an answer to this question: Why is the president doing this tonight?
JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, because just a week, perhaps a little more away from a declaration of war by the president. The president announcing that U.S. troops have gone into a combat mission inside Iraq. His top aides tell us the president very much wanted to use this occasion to answer the legitimate questions the president believes the American people still have.
Why is he convinced force might be necessary to disarm Saddam Hussein? Why now, when so many in the world say let the inspections run for weeks, if not months more? We are told the president will have no deadlines for Saddam Hussein tonight, no ultimatums to Saddam Hussein tonight. But because he is so close to making that threshold decision, that critical decision about war in Iraq, aides say the president thought it was time to have a full primetime news conference to answer the questions of reporters here in the East Room, but especially the questions of the American people.
He expects the why Iraq and why now questions. He also expects to be asked why does he view this situation so differently as he views the standoff with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program. And the president, of course, wants to put pressure on other members of the United Nations Security Council to accept his view that the inspections regime has failed and that it's time to move to the "serious consequences" the United Nations endorsed in its previous resolution that sent those inspectors back in.
So in the middle of some very tough diplomacy. The president will try to answer the questions of the American people tonight and also try to change the momentum right, now which is against his position at the United Nations -- Wolf.
BLITZER: But, John, at some point down the road, a formal address perhaps from the Oval Office to the American people. That's still expected as well, right?
KING: Still expected, and perhaps another major speech in between this news conference and any Oval Office address. We are told the president has settled at least tentatively on issuing an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein before he would send in the U.S. troops. Exactly what form that ultimatum will take still unclear, because first the president has to decide the course of events at the United Nations.
The administration still hoping to get support for a new resolution. In fact, as we speak tonight, still negotiating up in New York, perhaps open to a new deadline and a new resolution. So the U.N. first, and then the president will make those critical decisions. But, yes, if there is to be war, we will hear from the president again, most likely from the Oval Office.
BLITZER: John King at the White House. John, thanks very much. Aaron, back to you. BROWN: Wolf, thank you. As John alluded to, this conference, this news conference tonight comes on the eve of a hugely important U.N. Security Council meeting. Tomorrow morning the chief weapons inspector Hans Blix will present yet another update, perhaps; perhaps the last update before a possible war.
Secretary of State Powell is making his way to New York to make his final push for backing. So far, it has not gone that well, as John indicated. They don't seem to have the votes yet. How much the Blix report will help tomorrow is unclear. Today, there was some talk of compromise in the air, so we go to our senior U.N. correspondent, Richard Roth, who is, as always, at the U.N. -- Richard.
RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, right now perhaps one of the most important meetings even before the Friday session. Secretary of State Powell meeting with the French foreign minister. The two have dueled in public inside the Security Council, and they may go at it again on Friday. The two are at opposite sides on any new resolution or the use of force.
Earlier, Powell met here with Jack Straw. He's on his side, the British foreign secretary. And then the two men added the Spanish delegate because all three are backing a new resolution, the 18th says the United States, that would tell Iraq implicitly it would face war if it doesn't comply, following up on all of the other resolutions, including one passed unanimously. The British foreign secretary indicated though today that he would be looking for new language for a possible compromise while Russia still disagreed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK STRAW, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Of course we are ready to discuss the wording of that second resolution and to take on board any constructive suggestions as to how the process set out in that draft resolution could be improved. And that is exactly what we are doing, and I look forward to further discussions as fellow foreign ministers arrive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the possibility of an amendment?
STRAW: Well, there is certainly a possibility of an amendment, and that's something we're looking at.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: When you say we'll start the war tomorrow, and then you say, OK, the compromise, we'll start the war in three days. Is it a compromise? I mean on the basis of common sense? I don't think so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROTH: On Friday, Hans Blix expected to lay out what areas Iraq still must cooperate in. Meanwhile, on the flight over from Vienna, the top nuclear watch dog on Iraq said it's no time to scuttle inspections -- Aaron.
BROWN: Richard, thank you. And we'll get back to you after the president holds this news conference tonight to see where we are.
And just a reminder, a program note quickly here, stay with CNN for complete coverage of tomorrow's enormously important Security Council meeting. It's one of those moments hard to overstate. Showdown Iraq, the U.N. meeting; Paula Zahn, Wolf, and Christiane Amanpour all part of the coverage tomorrow. Richard will be there as well. It begins at 9:30 AM Eastern Time here on CNN.
What happens at the U.N. in the next few days will have an enormous impact on what the military options are for the United States and its allies leading up to the possibility of a war with Iraq. For more on that we go to CNN military analyst, retired Air Force Major General Don Shepperd who is with us tonight in Atlanta.
General, out there in the Kuwaiti desert, it won't take long before the Marines, the soldiers hear what the president has to say tonight. What would they like to hear from him?
MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: Well, Aaron, these guys are out in the desert. They've been camped out there in some rough conditions. It's getting hot. And what they want to hear is look, boss, we're reading that we're going to do this. Tell us when, let's get it over with. I don't think they're going to hear that tonight, Aaron.
Another thing worth considering is the kids that are going to do this are young kids. These are not grizzled veterans. There may be some officers out there. In fact, there are some officers. Senior non-commissioned officers that are veterans of the Gulf War. But for the most part, the kids that will wage this war are at it for the first time, and they're nervous, but they want to get at it, they want to get it over with and they expect to do it, Aaron.
BROWN: Well I assume that is pretty much the way it is in all wars that the bulk of the infantry, the bulk of the soldiers are there for the first time. When we were there, we were struck by how confident they seemed to be. They believe in their training. They believe in their command structure. I'm sure they're nervous, but they do seem ready.
SHEPPERD: Yes, they are ready. They're ready for the worst. We've put a lot of effort into training for the ugly things that can happen, the chemical and biological warfare. Hopefully this will be swift and very low casualty side on the United States side and also on the civilian side.
You're going to have civilian casualties in every war, but we are hoping to make this swift and virtually bloodless. In the Gulf War, some people were expecting 12,000 body bags. We had 148 killed. Hopefully this will be less and maybe none, Aaron.
BROWN: Well, it's something to hope for. There's been an awful lot this week about the implications of Turkey's decision, the Turkish parliament's decision not to allow American troops in there to launch a second front, a northern front war into Iraq. Do you feel that's pretty much a settled deal now and that whatever the alternative plan is, moving them in by paratroop or helicopter or what have you, is settled and workable?
SHEPPERD: I do feel that it's settled and workable. General Franks has known from the very beginning that there were options that he had to consider for all of the countries around the area in case we couldn't use their bases or their air space. It's not important necessarily we have Turkey. It's important that we have a northern front.
And if we can't go through Turkey to get the things that we need there, we can fly them in and we can have lighter airborne troops rather than the mechanized infantry division that we wanted up there coming over land to the Turkish ports. So I feel that we have a workaround if we can't get Turkey, but Turkey is not yet a dead deal.
BROWN: Not yet, but it's not a live option either right now. General, thank you. Don Shepperd in Atlanta tonight. About six minutes or so away from the president -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Aaron. I want to bring in our national security correspondent David Ensor. David, the president presumably will speak about the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed over the weekend, but does this in effect bring the U.S. any closer in real terms to finding Osama bin Laden?
DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, both U.S. and Pakistani officials are now saying that they believe they may be closer to finding Osama bin Laden. And an aggressive search is now under way in the northwestern provinces of Pakistan and just over the border into Afghanistan. Specifically, from Waziristan (ph), up through the tribal areas in the north. Not down south as some others have reported.
The other thing is that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, of course, was captured as we know now with his laptop computer, his cell phones, his notebooks, even his address book, apparently. So he brought with him, U.S. sources say, a treasure trove of intelligence. But he is now also talking to his interrogators. Officials say he is providing some limited, useful information.
So this was a major coup last Saturday, and you can expect the president to be talking about how pleased he is about it. And yes, it might lead, might lead to capturing Osama bin Laden -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We heard in that interview with the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, on CNN earlier today, David, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is sort of speaking so far out of both sides of his mouth. Early on in one interrogation, saying Osama bin Laden is indeed alive, met with him last month. But later saying he's not alive and didn't meet with him. How do these interrogators, the U.S. intelligence community basically know what to believe when this guy speaks? ENSOR: They have to cross-check everything with other intelligence, including, of course, his laptop computer and the rest that was captured with him. But a lot of other intelligence is also being gathered right now. They're having a bit of a bonanza at the moment.
So cross-checking everything that he says is the only way to go. Abu Zubaydah lied for weeks, according to U.S. officials, when he was captured. But he is now providing useful intelligence. They say that all these prisoners eventually do.
BLITZER: David Ensor, we'll be checking in with you after the news conference, as well. David, thanks very much. Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst, is joining us as well.
This is a critical news conference. Indeed, this is a critical period for the president as far as his own personal popularity with the American public is concerned, Bill.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, this president has everything riding on this policy. It's a very high- stakes gamble. If he triumphs, that is to stay -- and the measure is simple. If Saddam Hussein is out of power, and especially if it happens without a real war, the president will be a triumphant hero. And his entire domestic agenda is likely to fall into place.
If there is a failure, if Saddam Hussein is still in power, if the Middle East explodes in flames, if there are terrorist reprisals in the United States, if gasoline prices remain high, there are lots of scenarios, then he will be in serious trouble. I cannot imagine that he could get reelected if Saddam Hussein is still in power in 2004.
This is a high-stakes political gamble for the president. Everything on his agenda is riding on this policy.
BLITZER: And as we look at our live pictures, awaiting the president to walk into the East Room, Bill, the most recent public opinion polls do show the president having slipped a little bit in that job approval rating.
SCHNEIDER: Well that's right, and that's primarily driven by the economy. He knows very well what happened to his father. I put it this way: Winning a war will not guarantee his reelection, but losing a war might actually doom him.
In the end, Wolf, you've got to make this political calculation. It's brutal, but I think it's realistic. If there is a war, it will be Bush's war, because most Americans would quarrel with the fact that we have to go to war right now.
President Bush is selling this policy, he has embraced this policy, it is his policy. And that means in the end, politically, it will be President Bush's war.
BLITZER: All right. Bill Schneider, thanks. Stand by. We'll be getting back to you as well -- Aaron.
BROWN: That's interesting to me, a couple of things that Bill said. He talked about losing a war, and I suppose at some point we need to talk about -- not at this moment -- but what that means. No one expects in fact the United States and its allies to lose a war, but heavy casualties are getting (UNINTELLIGIBLE) down. It would clearly cause the president political problems.
And he also talked -- Bill did -- about going to war right now. And this is clearly something we expect the president to try and address today. Why now, when so many people around the world seem to think that it is rushing it, when so many allies seem to believe that, and when the weapons inspectors themselves seem to be asking for more time? That question of, "Why now," seems to be forefront now for the president to deal with because it is forefront in the American mind -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I suspect, also, that the president will try to answer that question briefly in his opening statement. His aides say we should expect a four or five-minute statement from the president focusing in on the situation with Iraq as well as the war on terror. He might get into some other issues as well. But the president very carefully weighing every word tonight knowing not only every word he says has a great impact here in the United States, but among the allies, the Arab world and, of course, officials in Baghdad as well.
And Aaron, I have to tell you, a lot of anticipation in the coming days there could be -- could be that potential decision to go to war.
BROWN: Well, you do sort of feel like today is the beginning of an important sequence of events, an important series of days -- the news conference in 45 seconds from now or so, the U.N. meeting tomorrow with Hans Blix's report.
Then, the possibility -- and then the negotiation over what the second resolution will be if there is to be a second resolution. And then, perhaps, some time next week, a presidential speech laying out an ultimatum, a deadline as John King talked about, all paving the way for the possibility of a war.
So what we are about to begin tonight is, we suspect, an -- the beginning of an extraordinarily important week in American life and the lives of 200,000 American soldiers who are overseas tonight. And important, too, in the way one looks at diplomacy around the world, the importance of the U.N., as the president makes his way in the East Room, to begin his 8th formal news conference.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good evening. I'm pleased to take your questions tonight and to discuss with the American people the serious matters facing our country and the world.
This has been an important week on two fronts -- on our war against terror. First, thanks to the hard work of American and Pakistani officials, we captured the mastermind of the September 11 attacks against our nation. BUSH: Khalid Sheik Mohammed conceived and planned the hijackings and directed the actions of the hijackers. We believe his capture will further disrupt the terror network and their planning for additional attacks.
Second, we have arrived at an important moment in confronting the threat posed to our nation and to peace by Saddam Hussein and his weapons of terror.
In New York tomorrow, the United Nations Security Council will receive an update from the chief weapons inspector. The world needs him to answer a single question: Has the Iraqi regime fully and unconditionally disarmed as required by Resolution 1441 or has it not?
BUSH: Iraq's dictator has made a public show of producing and destroying a few missiles, missiles that violate the restrictions set out more than 10 years ago.
Yet our intelligence shows that even as he is destroying these few missiles, he has ordered the continued production of the very same type of missiles.
Iraqi operatives continue to hide biological and chemical agents to avoid detection by inspectors.
BUSH: In some cases, these materials have been moved to different locations every 12 to 24 hours or placed in vehicles that are in residential neighborhoods.
We know from multiple intelligence sources that Iraqi weapons scientists continue to be threatened with harm should they cooperate with U.N. inspectors.
Scientists are required by Iraqi intelligence to wear concealed recording devices during interviews, and hotels where interviews take place are bugged by the regime.
These are not the actions of a regime that is disarming. These are the actions of a regime engaged in a willful charade. These are the actions of a regime that systematically and deliberately is defying the world.
BUSH: If the Iraqi regime were disarming, we would know it because we would see it. Iraq's weapons would be presented to inspectors and the world would witness their destruction.
Instead, with the world demanding disarmament, and more than 200,000 troops positioned near his country, Saddam Hussein's response is to produce a few weapons for show, while he hides the rest and builds even more.
BUSH: Inspection teams do not need more time or more personnel. All they need is what they have never received, the full cooperation of the Iraqi regime.
Token gestures are not acceptable. The only acceptable outcome is the one already defined by a unanimous vote of the Security Council: total disarmament.
Great Britain, Spain and the United States have introduced a new resolution stating that Iraq has failed to meet the requirements of Resolution 1441. Saddam Hussein is not disarming. This is a fact. It cannot be denied.
Saddam Hussein has a long history of reckless aggression and terrible crimes. He possess weapons of terror. He provides funding and training and safe haven to terrorists, terrorists who would willing use weapons of mass destruction against America and other peace-loving countries.
Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country, to our people and to all free people.
If the world fails to confront the threat posed by the Iraqi regime, refusing to use force even as a last resort, free nations would assume the myths (ph) and unacceptable risks.
BUSH: The attacks of September the 11th, 2001, show what the enemies of America did with four airplanes. We will not wait to see what terrorists or terrorist states could do with weapons of mass destruction.
We are determined to confront threats wherever they arise. I will not leave the American people at the mercy of the Iraqi dictator and his weapons.
In the event of conflict, America also accepts our responsibility to protect innocent lives in every way possible.
We will bring food and medicine to the Iraqi people. We will help that nation to build a just government after decades of brutal dictatorship.
BUSH: The form and leadership of that government is for the Iraqi people to choose. Anything they choose will be better than the misery and torture and murder they have known under Saddam Hussein.
Across the world and in every part of America people of good will are hoping and praying for peace. Our goal is peace for our nation, for our friends and allies, for the people of the Middle East.
People of good will must also recognize that allowing a dangerous dictator to defy the world and harbor weapons of mass murder and terror is not peace at all, it is pretense.
BUSH: The cause of peace will be advanced only when the terrorists lose a wealthy patron and protector, and when the dictator is fully and finally disarmed.
Tonight I thank the men and women of our armed services and their families.
BUSH: I know their deployment so far from home is causing hardship for many military families. Our nation is deeply grateful to all who serve in uniform.
We appreciate your commitment, your idealism and your sacrifice. We support you. And we know that if peace must be defended, you are ready.
Ron Fornier (ph)?
QUESTION: Let me see if I can further -- if you could further define what you just called this important moment we're in. Since you made it clear just now that you don't think that Saddam has disarmed and we have a quarter million troops in the Persian Gulf and now that you've called on the world to be ready to use force as a last resort, are we just days away from the point at which you decide whether or not we go to war? And what harm would it do to give Saddam a final ultimatum, a two- or three-day deadline to disarm or face force?
BUSH: Well, we're still in the final stages of diplomacy. I'm spending a lot of time on the phone talking to fellow leaders about the need for the United Nations Security Council to state the facts, which is Saddam Hussein hasn't disarmed.
1441, the Security Council resolution passed unanimously last fall, said clearly that Saddam Hussein has one last chance to disarm.
BUSH: He hasn't disarmed. So we're working with Security Council members to resolve this issue at the Security Council.
This is not only an important moment for the security of our nation, I believe it's an important moment for the Security Council itself. And the reason I say that is because this issue has been before the Security Council, the issue of disarmament of Iraq, for 12 long years.
And the fundamental question facing the Security Council is will its words mean anything; when the Security Council speaks, will the words have merit and weight? I think it's important for those words to have merit and weight, because I understand that in order to win the war against terror, there must be a united effort to do so. And we must work together to defeat terror.
Iraq is a part of the war on terror. Iraq is a country that has got terrorist ties, it's a country with wealth, it's a country that trains terrorists, a country that could arm terrorists. And our fellow Americans must understand, in this new war against terror, that we not only must chase down Al Qaida terrorists, we must deal with weapons of mass destruction as well.
That's what the United Nations Security Council has been talking about for 12 long years.
BUSH: It's now time for this issue to come to a head at the Security Council, and it will.
As far as ultimatums and all of the speculation about what may or may not happen after next week we'll just wait and see.
BUSH: Well, we're days away from resolving this issue at the Security Council.
QUESTION: Thank you. Another hot spot is North Korea. If North Korea restarts their plutonium plant, will that change your thinking about how to handle this crisis? Or are you resigned to North Korea becoming a nuclear power?
BUSH: This is a regional issue. I say regional issue because there's a lot of countries that have got a direct stake into whether or not North Korea has nuclear weapons. We've got a stake as to whether North Korea has a nuclear weapon. China clearly has a stake as to whether or not North Korea has a nuclear weapon. South Korea, of course, has a stake. Japan has got a significant stake as to whether or not North Korea has a nuclear weapon. Russia has a stake.
BUSH: So, therefore, I think the best way to deal with this is in multilateral fashion by convincing those nations that they must stand up to their responsibility, along with the United States, to convince Kim Jong Il that the development of a nuclear arsenal is not in his nation's interests, and that should he want help in easing the suffering of the North Korean people, the best way to achieve that help is to not proceed forward.
We've tried bilateral negotiations with North Korea. My predecessor, in a good-faith effort, entered into a framework agreement. The United States honored its side of the agreement; North Korea didn't.
While we felt the agreement was enforced, North Korea was enriching uranium. In my judgment the best way to deal with North Korea is to convince the parties to assume their responsibility.
I was heartened by the fact that Jiang Zemin, when he came to Crawford, Texas, made it very clear to me and publicly, as well, that a nuclear weapons-free peninsula was in China's interests.
And so we're working with China and the other nations I mentioned to bring a multilateral pressure and to convince Kim Jong Il that the development of a nuclear arsenal is not in his interests.
BUSH: Dave (ph)?
QUESTION: Mr. President, you and your top advisers, notably Secretary of State Powell, have repeatedly said that we have shared with our allies all of the current, up-to-date intelligence information that proves the imminence of the threat we face from Saddam Hussein and that they have been sharing their intelligence as well. If all of these nations, all of them our normal allies, have access to the same intelligence information, why is it that they are reluctant to think that the threat is so real, so imminent that we need to move to the brink of war now? And in relation to that, today, the British foreign minister, Jack Straw, suggested at the U.N. that it might be time to look at amending the resolution perhaps with an eye toward a timetable, like that proposed by the Canadians some two weeks ago, that would set a firm deadline to give Saddam Hussein a little bit of time to come clean. And also, obviously, that would give you a little bit of a chance to build more support with any members of the Security Council.
Is that something that the governments should be pursuing at the U.N. right now?
BUSH: We, of course, are consulting with our allies at the United Nations.
BUSH: But I meant what I said. This is the last phase of diplomacy. A little bit more time: Saddam Hussein has had 12 years to disarm. He is deceiving people. This is important for our fellow citizens to realize that if he really intended to disarm like the world has asked him to do, we would know whether he was disarming. He's trying to buy time.
I can understand why: He's been successful with these tactics for 12 years.
Saddam Hussein is a threat to our nation. September the 11th changed the strategic thinking, at least as far as I was concerned, for how to protect our country. My job is to protect the American people.
It used to be that we could think that you could contain a person like Saddam Hussein, that oceans would protect us from his type of terror.
September the 11th should say to the American people that we are now a battlefield, that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist organization could be deployed here at home.
So therefore I think the threat is real. And so do a lot of other people in my government. And since I believe the threat is real and since my most important job is to protect the security of the American people, that's precisely what we will do.
Our demands are that Saddam Hussein disarm. We hope he does. We have worked with the international community to convince him to disarm. If he doesn't disarm, we'll disarm him.
BUSH: You asked about sharing of intelligence, and I appreciate that, because we do share a lot of intelligence with nations which may or may not agree with us in the Security Council as to how to deal with Saddam Hussein and his threats.
We've got roughly 90 countries engaged in Operating Enduring Freedom, chasing down the terrorists. We do communicate a lot. And we will continue to communicate a lot.
We must communicate. We must share intelligence. We must share -- we must cut off money together. We must smoke these Al Qaida types out one at a time.
It's in our national interest as well that we deal with Saddam Hussein.
But America is not alone in this sentiment. There are a lot of countries who fully understand the threat of Saddam Hussein. A lot of countries realize that the credibility of the Security Council is at stake; a lot of countries, like America, who hope that he would have disarmed, and a lot of countries which realize that it may require force, may require force to disarm him.
BUSH: Jim Angle (ph)?
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
Sir, if you haven't already made the choice to go to war, can you tell us what you are waiting to hear or see before you do make that decision?
And if I may, during a recent demonstration many of the protesters suggested that the U.S. was a threat to peace, which prompted you to wonder out loud why they didn't see Saddam Hussein as a threat to peace.
I wonder why you think so many people around the world take a different view of the threat that Saddam Hussein poses than you and your allies.
BUSH: Well, first, I -- you know, I appreciate societies in which people can express their opinion. That society -- free speech stands in stark contrast to Iraq.
Secondly, I've seen all kinds of protests since I've been the president.
I remember the protests against trade. A lot of people didn't feel like free trade was good for the world. I completely disagree. I think free trade is good for both wealthy and impoverished nations. But that didn't change my opinion about trade. As a matter of fact, I went to the Congress to get trade promotion authority.
I recognize there are people who don't like war. I don't like war.
I wish that Saddam Hussein had listened to the demands of the world and disarmed. That was my hope.
That's why I first went to the United Nations to begin with on September the 12th, 2002, to address this issue as forthrightly as I knew how.
That's why, months later, we went to the Security Council to get another resolution, called 1441, which was unanimously approved by the Security Council demanding that Saddam Hussein disarm.
BUSH: I'm hopeful that he does disarm. But in the name of peace and the security of our people, if he won't do so voluntarily, we will disarm him, and other nations will join him -- join us in disarming him.
And that creates a certain sense of anxiety. I understand that. Nobody likes war.
The only thing I can do is assure the loved ones of those who wear our uniform that if we have to go to war, if war is upon us because Saddam Hussein has made that choice, we will have the best equipment available for our troops, the best plan available for victory, and we will respect innocent life in Iraq.
The risk of doing nothing, the risk of hoping that Saddam Hussein changes his mind and becomes a gentle soul, the risk that somehow inaction will make the world safer, is a risk I'm not willing to take for the American people.
King -- John King?
BUSH: This is a scripted.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Sir, how would you answer your critics who say that they think is somehow personal? As Senator Kennedy put it tonight, he said your fixation with Saddam Hussein is making the world a more dangerous place.
QUESTION: And as you prepare the American people for the possibility of military conflict, could you share with us any of the scenarios your advisers have shared with you about worst-case scenarios, in terms of the potential cost of American lives, the potential cost to the American economy and the potential risks of retaliatory terrorist strikes here at home?
BUSH: My job is to protect America and that's exactly what I'm going to do.
People can describe all kinds of intentions. I swore to protect and defend the Constitution, that's what I swore to do. I put my hand on the Bible and took that oath. And that's exactly what I am going to do.
I believe Saddam Hussein is a threat to the American people. I believe he's a threat to the neighborhood in which he lives.
And I've got good evidence to believe that. He has weapons of mass destruction, and he has used weapons of mass destruction in his neighborhood and on his own people. He's invaded countries in his neighborhood. He tortures his own people. He's a murderer. He has trained and financed Al Qaida-type organizations before -- Al Qaida and other terrorist organizations.
I take the threat seriously, and I'll deal with the threat. I hope it can be done peacefully.
The rest of your six-point question?
QUESTION: The potential crisis in terms of...
BUSH: No, thanks.
QUESTION: ... for the economy, terrorism.
BUSH: The price of doing nothing exceeds the price of taking action if we have to. We will do everything we can to minimize the loss of life.
BUSH: The price of the attacks on America, the cost of the attacks on America on September 11th were enormous. They were significant. And I'm not willing to take that chance again, John.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
May I follow up on Jim Angle's (ph) question? In the past several weeks your policy on Iraq has generated opposition from the governments of France, Russia, China, Germany, Turkey, the Arab League and many other countries, opened a rift at NATO and at the U.N. and drawn millions of ordinary citizens around the world into the streets into anti-war protests.
May I ask what went wrong that so many governments and peoples around the world now not only disagree with you very strongly, but see the U.S. under your leadership as an arrogant power?
BUSH: I think if you remember back prior to the resolution coming out of the United Nations last fall, I suspect you might have asked a question along those lines: How come you can't anybody to support your resolution? If I remember correctly, there was a lot of doubt as to whether or not we were even going to get any votes. We would get our own, of course.
And the vote came out 15 to nothing, Terry. And I think you will see when it's all said and done, if we have to use force, a lot of nations will be with us.
BUSH: You clearly name some that -- France and Germany express their opinions. We have a disagreement over how best to deal with Saddam Hussein. I understand that.
Having said that, they're still our friends, and we'll deal with them as friends. We've got a lot of common interests. Our trans- Atlantic relationships are very important.
And while they may disagree with how we deal with Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction, there was no disagreement when it came time to vote on 1441, as least as far as France was concerned. They joined us. They said Saddam Hussein has one last chance of disarming.
If they think more time will cause him to disarm, I disagree with that. He's a master of deception. He has no intention of disarming. Otherwise, we would have known.
There's a lot talk about inspectors. It would have taken a handful of inspectors to determine whether he was disarming. They could've showed up at a parking lot and he could've brought his weapons and destroyed them.
That's not what he chose to do.
Secondly, I make my decisions based upon the oath I took, the one I just described to you. I believe Saddam Hussein is a threat -- is a threat to the American people. He's a threat to people in his neighborhood. He's also a threat to the Iraqi people.
One of the things we love in America is freedom. If I may, I'd like to remind you what I said at the State of the Union: Liberty is not America's gift to the world; it is God's gift to each and every person. And that's what I believe.
I believe that when we see totalitarianism, that we must deal with it. We don't have to do it always militarily.
BUSH: But this is a unique circumstance because of 12 years of denial and defiance, because of terrorist connections, because of past history.
I'm convinced that a liberated Iraq will be important for that troubled part of the world. The Iraqi people are plenty capable of governing themselves. Iraq's a sophisticated society. Iraq's got money. Iraq will provide a place where people can see that the Shia and the Sunni and the Kurds can get along in a federation. Iraq will serve as a catalyst for change -- positive change.
So there's a lot more at stake than just American security and the security of people close by Saddam Hussein. Freedom is at stake, as well. And I take that very seriously.
QUESTION: Mr. President, good evening.
If you order war, can any military operation be considered a success if the United States does not capture Saddam Hussein, as you once said, "Dead or alive?"
BUSH: Well, I hope we don't have to go to war. But if we go to war we will disarm Iraq. And if we go to war there will be a regime change. And replacing this cancer inside of Iraq will be a government that represents the rights of all the people, a government which represents the voices of the Shia and the Sunni and the Kurds.
We care about the suffering of the Iraqi people. I mentioned in my opening comments that there's a lot of food ready to go in. There's something like 55,000 Oil-for-Food distribution points in Iraq.
BUSH: We know where they are. We fully intend to make sure that they've got ample food. We know where their hospitals are. We want to make sure they've got ample medical supplies.
The life of the Iraqi citizen's going to dramatically improve.
QUESTION: Is success contingent upon capturing or killing Saddam Hussein in your mind?
BUSH: We will be changing the regime of Iraq for the good of the Iraqi people.
Bill Plante (ph)?
QUESTION: Mr. President, to a lot of people it seems that war is probably inevitable, because many people doubt -- most people I would guess -- that Saddam Hussein will ever do what we are demanding that he do, which is disarm.
And if war is inevitable, there are a lot of people in this country -- as much as half by polling standards -- who agree that he should be disarmed, who listen to you say that you have the evidence, but who feel they haven't seen it, and who still wonder why blood has to be shed if he hasn't attacked us.
BUSH: Well, Bill, if they believe he should be disarmed and he's not going to disarm, there's only way to disarm him. And that is going to be my last choice: the use of force.
Secondly, the American people know that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.
By the way, he declared he didn't have any. 1441 insisted that he have a complete declaration of his weapons. He said he didn't have any weapons.
And secondly, he's used these weapons before. I mean, we're not speculating about the nature of the man. We know the nature of the man.
Colin Powell, in an eloquent address to the United Nations, described some of the information we were at liberty of talking about. He mentioned a man named Al-Zachari (ph) who is in charge of the poison network. It's a man who was wounded in Afghanistan, received aid in Baghdad, ordered the killing of a U.S. citizen -- USAID employee -- was harbored in Iraq.
BUSH: There is a poison plant in northeast Iraq.
To assume that Saddam Hussein knew none of this was going on is not to really understand the nature of the Iraqi society. There's a lot of facts which make it clear to me and many others that Saddam is a threat. And we're not going to wait until he does attack. We're not going to hope that he changes his attitude. We're not going to assume that, you know, he is a different kind of person than he has been.
So in the name of security and peace, if we have to -- if we have to, we'll disarm him. I hope he disarms, or perhaps I hope he leaves the country. I hear a lot of talk from different nations around where Saddam Hussein might be exiled. That would be fine with me, just so long as Iraq disarms after he's exiled.
Let's see here, Elizabeth (ph)?
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
As you said, the Security Council faces a vote next week on a resolution implicitly authorizing an attack on Iraq. Will you call for a vote on that resolution, even if you aren't sure you have the votes?
BUSH: Well, first, I don't think -- it basically says that he is in defiance of 1441. That's what the resolution says.
And it's hard to believe anybody saying he isn't in defiance of 1441 because 1441 said he must disarm.
And yes, we'll call for a vote.
QUESTION: No matter what?
BUSH: No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote. 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.
And so, you bet. It's time for people to show their cards, let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam.
Mark Knoller (ph)?
QUESTION: Mr. President, are you worried that the United States might be viewed as defiant of the United Nations if you went ahead with military action without specific and explicit authorization from the U.N.?
BUSH: No, I'm not worried about that.
As a matter of fact, it's hard to say the United States is defiant about the United Nations when I was the person who took the issue to the United Nations September the 12th, 2002.
BUSH: We've been working with the United Nations. We've been working through the United Nations.
Secondly, I'm confident the American people understand that when it comes to our security, if we need to act, we will act. And we really don't need United Nations approval to do so.
I want to work -- I want the United Nations to be effective. It's important for it to be a robust, capable body. It's important for its words to mean what they say. And as we head into the 21st century, Mark (ph), when it comes to our security, we really don't need anybody's permission.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
Even though our military can certainly prevail without a northern front, isn't Turkey making it at least slightly more challenging for us, and therefore at least slightly more likely that American lives will be lost? And if they don't reverse course, would you stop backing their entry into the European Union?
BUSH: The answer to your second question is I support Turkey going into the EU.
Turkey's a friend. They're a NATO ally. We'll continue to work with Turkey. We've got contingencies in place that should our troops not come through Turkey -- not be allowed to come through Turkey. And no, that won't cause any more hardship for our troops; I'm confident of that.
April (ph), did you have a question, or did I call upon you cold?
QUESTION: No, I have a question.
I'm sure you do have a question.
QUESTION: Mr. President, as the nation is at odds over war, with many organizations like the Congressional Black Caucus pushing for continued diplomacy through the U.N., how is your faith guiding you? And what should you tell America? Well, what should America do collectively as you instructed before 9/11? Should it be pray? Because you are saying, "Let's continue the war on terror."
BUSH: I appreciate that question a lot.
BUSH: First, for those who urge more diplomacy, I would simply say that diplomacy hasn't worked. We've tried diplomacy for 12 years. Saddam Hussein hasn't disarmed. He's armed.
And we live in a dangerous world. We live in new circumstances in our country, and I hope people remember the -- I know they remember the tragedy of September the 11th, but I hope they understand the lesson of September the 11th.
The lesson is that we're vulnerable to attach wherever it may occur, and we must take threats which gather overseas very seriously. We don't have to deal with them all militarily, but we must deal with them.
And in the case of Iraq, it is now time for him to disarm. For the sake of peace, if we have to use our troops, we will.
My faith sustains me, because I pray daily. I pray for guidance and wisdom and strength.
If we were to commit our troops -- if we were to commit our troops I would pray for their safety, and I would pray for the safety of innocent Iraqi lives as well.
One thing that's really great about our country is that there are thousands of people who pray for me who I'll never see and be able to thank. But it's a humbling experience to think that people I will never have met have lifted me and my family up in prayer. And for that I'm grateful. It's been a comforting feeling to know that is true.
I pray for peace, April (ph). I pray for peace.
QUESTION: As you know, not everyone shares your optimistic vision of how this might play out. Do you ever worry, maybe in the wee, small hours, that you might be wrong and they might be right in thinking that this could lead to more terrorism, more anti-American sentiment, more instability in the Middle East?
BUSH: I think, first of all, it's hard to envision more terror on America than September the 11th, 2001. We did nothing to provoke that terrorist attack. It came upon us because there is an enemy which hates America. They hate what we stand for. We love freedom, and we're not changing. And therefore, so long as there's a terrorist network like Al Qaida and others willing to fund them, finance them, equip them, we're at war.
BUSH: And so I -- you know, obviously I've thought long and hard about the use of troops. I think about it all of the time. It is my responsibility to commit the troops.
I believe we'll prevail. I know we'll prevail.
And out of that disarmament of Saddam will come a better world, particularly for the people who live in Iraq.
This is society, Ron, who -- which has been decimated by his murderous ways, his torture. He doesn't allow dissent. He doesn't believe in the values we believe in.
I believe this society -- the Iraqi society can develop in a much better way. I think of the risks, calculated the costs of inaction versus the cost of action. And I'm firmly convinced, if we have to, we will act in the name of peace and in the name of freedom.
QUESTION: Mr. President, if you decide to go ahead with military action, there are inspectors on the ground in Baghdad. Will you give them time to leave the country, or the humanitarian workers on the ground, or the journalists? Will you be able to do that and still mount an effective attack on Iraq?
BUSH: Of course, we will give people a chance to leave. And we don't want anybody in harm's way who shouldn't be in harm's way.
BUSH: The journalists who are there should leave. If you're going and we start action, leave.
The inspectors -- we don't want people in harm's way.
And our intention -- we have no quarrel with anybody other than Saddam and his group of killers who have destroyed a society.
And we will do everything we can, as I mentioned -- and I mean this -- to protect innocent life. I've not made up our mind about military action. Hopefully, this can be done peacefully. I believe that, as a result of the pressure that we have placed, and others have placed, that Saddam will disarm and/or leave the country.
QUESTION: Mr. President, good evening.
Sir, you've talked a lot about trusting the American people when it comes to making decisions about their own lives, about how to spend their own money.
When it comes to the financial costs of the war, sir, it would seem that the administration surely has costed out various scenarios. If that's the case, why not present some of them to the American people so they know what to expect, sir?
BUSH: Ed (ph), we will. We'll present it in the form of a supplemental to the spenders. We don't get to spend the money; as you know, we have to request the expenditure of money from the Congress, and at the appropriate time we'll request a supplemental.
We're obviously analyzing all aspects. We hope we don't go to war, but if we should, we will present a supplemental.
But I want to remind you what I said before.
BUSH: There is a huge cost when we get attacked. There's a significant cost to our society.
First of all, there's the cost of lives. It's an immeasurable cost. Three thousand people died. Significant cost to our economy. Opportunity loss is an immeasurable cost. Besides the cost of repairing buildings and cost to our airlines. And so, the cost of an attack is significant.
If I thought we were safe from attack, I would be thinking differently. But I see a gathering threat. I mean, it's a true, real threat to America. And therefore, we will deal with it.
And at the appropriate time, Ed (ph), we will ask for a supplemental. And that'll be the moment where you and others will be able to recognize what we think the dollar cost of a conflict will be.
You know, the benefits of such a effort, if, in fact, we go forward and are successful, are also immeasurable. How do you measure the benefit of freedom in Iraq? I guess if you're an Iraqi citizen you can measure it by being able to express your mind, though. How do you measure the consequence of taking a dictator out of power who has tried to invade Kuwait, somebody who may someday decide to lob a weapon of mass destruction on Israel? How would you weigh the cost of that?
Those are immeasurable costs. And I weigh those very seriously.
In terms of the dollar amount, we'll let you know here pretty soon.
George Condon (ph)?
QUESTION: If I can follow on Steve's (ph) question on North Korea, do you believe it is essential for the security of the United States and its allies that North Korea be prevented from developing nuclear weapons? And are you in any way growing frustrated with the pace of the diplomacy there?
BUSH: Yes, I think it's an issue. Obviously I'm concerned about North Korea developing nuclear weapons, not only for their own use, but for -- perhaps they might choose to proliferate them, sell them. They may end up in the hands of dictators, people who are not afraid of using weapons of using weapons of mass destruction, people who try to impose their will on the world or blackmail free nations -- concerned about it.
BUSH: We are working hard to bring a diplomatic solution.
And we've made some progress. After all, the IAEA asked that the Security Council take up the North Korean issue. It's now in the Security Council.
Constantly talking with the Chinese and the Russians and the Japanese and the South Koreans. Colin Powell just went overseas and spent some time in China, went to the inauguration of President Roh in South Korea and spent time in China. And we're working the issue hard, and optimistic that we'll come up with a diplomatic solution.
I certainly hope so.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
Mr. President, millions of Americans can recall a time when leaders from both parties set this country on a mission of regime change in Vietnam. Fifty-thousand Americans died. The regime is still there in Hanoi and it hasn't harmed or threatened a single American in 30 years since the war ended.
What can you say tonight, sir, to the sons and the daughters of the Americans who served in Vietnam to assure them that you will not lead this country down a similar path in Iraq?
BUSH: It's a great question.
Our mission is clear in Iraq. Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament.
In order to disarm, it will mean regime change. I'm confident that we'll be able to achieve that objective in a way that minimizes the loss of life.
No doubt there's risks with any military operation. I know that. But it's very clear what we intend to do. And our mission won't change. The mission is precisely what I just stated. We've got a plan that will achieve that mission should we need to send forces in.
Last question. Let's see, who needs one? Jean (ph)?
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. In the coming days, the American people are going to hear a lot of debate about this British proposal of a possible deadline being added to the resolution or not. And I know you don't want to tip your hand; this is a great diplomatic moment.
But from the administration's perspective and your own perspective, can you share for the American public what you view as the pros and cons associated with that proposal?
BUSH: You're right, I'm not going to tip my hand.
QUESTION: But could you help them sort out the debate...
BUSH: Thank you.
Anything that's debated must have resolution to this issue. We're not going to -- it makes no sense to allow this issue to continue on and on in the hopes that Saddam Hussein disarms. The whole purpose of the debate is for Saddam to disarm.
We gave him a chance. As a matter of fact, we gave him 12 years of chances. But recently, we gave him a chance starting last fall, and it said, "last chance to disarm." The resolution said that. And had he chosen to do so, it would be evident that he disarmed. And so more time, more inspectors, more process, in our judgment is not going to affect the peace of the world.
So whatever is resolved is going to have some finality to it, so that Saddam Hussein will take us seriously.
I want to remind you that it is his choice to make as to whether or not we go to war. It's Saddam's choice. He's the person that can make the choice of war and peace. Thus far, he's made the wrong choice. If we have to, for the sake and the security of the American people, for the sake of peace in the world and for freedom to the Iraqi people, we will disarm Saddam Hussein. And by we, it's more than America. A lot of nations will join us.
Thank you for your questions.
BROWN: President Bush's eighth formal news conference of his presidency. Certainly he was very somber tonight, very careful in the words he chose. You heard it. We don't need to go through every last detail of it.
But I would point to two things. He said, one, early on, He said the question for the U.N. is a simple one. It is how the president wants to frame it, has Iraq fully and unconditionally disarmed? Clearly, Hans Blix when he addresses the Security Council, tomorrow will not say that. He will not say that Iraq has fully and unconditionally disarmed.
And the president also said we, the United States, will call for a vote. It's time for countries to show their cards on Iraq, whether we have the votes or not. So at least, at this moment, there will be a vote on a second resolution. We presume that is sometime next week.
Those are the things we jotted down. John King, our senior White House correspondent, what did you hear?
KING: Well, Aaron, that certainly is perhaps the most significant, immediate headline. The president committing, win or lose, to a vote at the United Nations tonight. Some aides, in recent days, have equivocated and said perhaps the United States would pull that resolution back if it did not have the votes. The president, as you just noted, said, No, let's see -- let the cards fall as they may and let's put the world on account. Let people vote.
The president also making clear that exile would be fine with him. If Saddam Hussein and his killers, as the president called them, would leave Iraq, that would avert war. But he president also making clear, and this is one of the sticking points at the United Nations, that if there is war, his goal is not just disarmament. The president believes to achieve that, there must be regime change.
He called Saddam Hussein a cancer inside Iraq. Mr. Bush also promised a warning to the inspectors and journalists inside Iraq, that if there is to be a war, he will give them form of a heads up that they should get out of the country. And you saw the president bristle on the one hand when asked, as many critics say, if this is personal to him, going after Saddam Hussein. And another emotional moment, the president teared up and said he was grateful for the prayers of thousands of Americans he will never meet as he decides, and we are told he will decide in the next week or two, at the most, to send U.S. troops into Iraq -- Aaron.
BROWN: Was it as somber an event as it seemed to us here?
KING: It was very somber in here. Not a lot of sound in the room.
The president, very low-key in his responses. Aides say one of the reasons he wanted to have this event is that he understands there's disagreement out in the country, there are questions out in the country. And whether you agree with him or not, the president wanted to use this event tonight to convey the message to the American people that he has thought this through, that he has weighed the pros and cons and that he is comfortable with his position, even if many in the country, and certainly many around the world, might disagree with him.
BROWN: John, thank you. Our senior White House correspondent, John King. We'll talk to you again at 10:00 Eastern time on "NEWSNIGHT."
Jeff Greenfield is here. I wrote down very careful in how I heard the president. What did you hear?
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they say when a president speaks, every word weighs a ton. You can probably multiply that by a thousand when you're talking about war and peace.
But I heard two messages again and again. One, Iraq equals terror. He wants the country to remember 9/11 and somehow, even if there's no evidence of direct link, that link. Saddam has funded al Qaeda-type groups. He protects terrorists. He encourages terrorists. Because that's the fight that Americans will support the president on overwhelmingly. The skepticism about Iraq, for Iraq's sake, I think, is greater.
The second, and perhaps a curious one. One might not have predicted this. The constant repetition on the theme that we're going to do everything we can to protect innocent life. Because I think, for the world community and for a lot of Americans opposed to this, that memory of Vietnam, civilian casualties, apparently hangs heavy.
BROWN: Well, especially if you factor in, when you listen to the military planners on this and they talk about the shock and awe of the first 48 hours or so. You have an image of these -- of literally hundreds of Cruise missiles raining down on Iraq, many hitting targets and some of them not.
GREENFIELD: Inevitably, some not.
I mean, it's interesting. I don't think in a case of war and peace you always want to talk about, you know, public opinion and polls. But it is true that contrary to what we might have thought, the numbers are not encouraging. I mean, the last Quinnipiac poll shows that the country is absolutely evenly split on whether they approve of the president's handling of the Iraq situation.
And I think the twin messages today, I care about innocent life -- this is not some kind of imperial venture. And it's a threat. How many times did he say Saddam Hussein is a threat to the American people, and I will not let that threat happen, and we all remember 9/11. BROWN: I wrote down 11 references to 9/11 and I may have missed one.
Wolf Blitzer is in Washington -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Aaron.
Even while the president was speaking, we heard just a little bit earlier in the evening from Saddam Hussein directly, and he had a double-barreled message of his own for the American public.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SADDAM HUSSEIN, IRAQI PRESIDENT (through translator): Their concept for democracy is to bring subservience from America to rule Baghdad. This is their democracy. But when the people elect their leadership unanimously, such exercise means nothing for them. You reveal all their false and bogus slogans by which they cover their aggressive intentions and greeds against peoples and nations.
Iraq is not easy morsel. It is a harsh one that will harm the mouth of the one who likes to eat and it is too difficult to swallow. But our responsibility towards humanity makes us advise our enemy. But by God, if they dare to attack Iraq, they will see days during which they wish they don't attack us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in our CNN military analyst, retired U.S. Air Force Major General Don Shepperd.
You heard the president ask the very poignant question, could he guarantee to the American public this will not be another Vietnam? You just heard Saddam Hussein threaten all sorts of disaster for U.S. troops. How serious of a military challenge does the United States face right now?
SHEPPERD: We face a serious military challenge, Wolf, and we don't know what the results of this attack will be. But we're confident, militarily, that we can pull this off.
But when you go to war, you have to be ready to take the bad stuff that comes with it and there will be some surprises. I listened very carefully to the president here and the things I picked out, from a military standpoint, he's not willing to take a chance. It's time for people to show their cards. He doesn't need permission.
And above all, in his mind, what he wants is to do is disarmament, regime change and minimum loss of life. He feels this is about the security and the future of the American people. And the way I read him from a military standpoint, Wolf, is that this is going to happen unless something miraculous happens in the next few days.
BLITZER: General Shepperd, thanks very much.
Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, was listening very carefully. Pentagon officials, the U.S. military, Jamie, also want -- always want a clearly defined mission. Is there a clearly defined mission, one that satisfies them right now?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I think so, Wolf. I think the President Bush made it pretty clear that regime change is the mission, even paramount over disarmament -- disarmament by regime change.
And although the president said that he has not made up his mind, everybody here in this building is preparing to go to war. There are few final steps that need to be taken, a few more pieces of logistics that need to be put into place, a few more planning. But basically, the U.S. military is ready to go, and President Bush sounded like he was ready too.
BLITZER: There's no doubt about that. Jamie McIntyre, thanks very much.
Aaron, the president left no doubt the United States may be only a few days away from war.
BROWN: Sounded that way to us.
David Ensor covers national security matters for us. David, how concerned are the sources you talked to that a war will, in and of itself. lead to increased risks, either to Americans directly, or to American interests abroad?
ENSOR: They obviously feel that there are people out there, al Qaeda included, who may try to use a war against Iraq as a pretext, as a moment to stage large terrorist attacks.
They also feel, though, that having captured the operations chief of al Qaeda the other day and having him under interrogation now, and with evidence that they may be closing in even, possibly, on Osama bin Laden, that al Qaeda is on the defensive more than a little. So interesting wasn't it, that there were -- this big news this week, but war hung over everything so heavily, that there were no questions about that triumph.
BROWN: No, there were, in fact, only two questions about any thing other than Iraq that I noted. David, thank you. David Ensor.
Bill Schneider, you talked earlier about this being the president's war, his political future riding on the outcome, if it comes to a war. I can't imagine that you heard any thing in the last 45 minutes or so that changed your view?
SCHNEIDER: No, this is the toughest decision, the biggest political risk I believe any president has taken since the Cuban missile crisis. even his father had most of the world on his side when he went into the Gulf War in 1991.
The question is -- comes to a vote in the U.N. The president said he's going to have that vote. If it does not pass the U.N. if it's vetoed, what will the United States do? That's the crucial decision.
BROWN: Bill, thank you.
That -- tomorrow morning, U.N. Security Council hears the next Blix report. That's the next major event.
More coverage on the president's news conference coming up next here on CNN. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. We'll see you again at 10:00 Eastern time tonight for "NEWSNIGHT."
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