March 4, 2003
'We will continue to hunt them down'
Terror war, N. Korea, Iraq interview topics
By GEORGE E. CONDON JR.
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – President Bush yesterday called the arrest of the alleged planner of the Sept. 11 attacks a significant step in the war against terrorism and cited it as vindication of his approach to that war.
In a White House interview with Copley News Service and several other news organizations, Bush also sent a signal to the Mexican government that he expects it to support the United States' position on Iraq in the Security Council. Bush warned of possible "discipline" if Mexico does not support the U.N. resolution, which would authorize force against Iraq.
And only a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il warned of nuclear war if the United States attacks his country's nuclear facilities, Bush said military options "are on the table" in reference to the standoff.
Bush was grim while discussing Iraq and North Korea, but he was clearly delighted by Saturday's arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the operations planner of al-Qaeda and the man pegged by U.S. intelligence as the planner of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The arrest came at a time when critics were suggesting that Bush's focus on Iraq was hindering the war against terrorism. But Bush said it affirmed his vision of how the war will proceed.
"I told the American people this is a different kind of war against al-Qaeda, that we're just going to have to hunt them down one at a time," he said.
"Over the weekend, they saw what I meant. We will continue to hunt them down one at a time . . . and will do so until al-Qaeda is completely dismantled," he said.
On Iraq, the president was unyielding in his determination to force the disarmament of Saddam Hussein.
And on North Korea, he was cautious but willing to talk about a military option.
"I believe we can deal with this issue diplomatically by convincing China and Russia and South Korea to join us in convincing North Korea that it is not in their nation's interest to be threatening the United States."
Asked whether a diplomatic approach had been successful, Bush said, "It's in process."
The president added, "If they don't work diplomatically, they'll have to work militarily. And (the) military option is our last choice. Options are on the table, but I believe we can deal with this diplomatically. I truly do."
The president alternated between humor, determination, sarcasm and reflection during the 36-minute session held in the Roosevelt Room, opening the interview by calling attention to President Theodore Roosevelt's Nobel Peace Prize on the mantel over a crackling fire.
The prize, he said, "is an interesting tribute to a president who had a vision about how to keep the peace and was willing to take risks to achieve peace."
On Iraq and the war against terror, Bush cast himself in a similar light, acknowledging but dismissing the worldwide protests against war.
"If they tried to do that in Iraq, they'd have their tongues cut out," he said of American protesters, adding, "I haven't seen many protests on behalf of the Iraqi people who suffer and are tortured. This guy is a cold-blooded . . . dictator."
But he did say he has paid attention to the protesters.
"Of course, I care what they believe. And I've listened carefully. I've thought long and hard about what needs to be done," he said. "And obviously some people in Northern California do not see there's a true risk to the United States posed by Saddam Hussein. And we just have a difference of opinion."
Bush downplayed the extent of war opposition among U.S. allies.
"There are two nations in Europe – France and Germany – who do not see Saddam Hussein as a direct threat. And we just have a difference of opinion. But there are a lot of other nations who do," he said.
When pressed, Bush said sympathy for the United States has diminished since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He blamed some of the protests on lingering unhappiness over his administration's opposition to international agreements on global warming and an international criminal court.
"So, yes, I see the protests and I know they're large at times. But I'm not so sure I'd jump to the conclusion that everybody in those parts of the world are anti-American," he said.
Closer to home, Bush seemed concerned at the debate on Iraq under way in Mexico, which will have a vote on the Security Council resolution to authorize the use of force to disarm Iraq.
"We'll be disappointed if people don't support us," he said pointedly.
Bush added, "But, nevertheless, I don't expect for there to be significant retribution from the government."
His emphasis was on the word "government," raising the possibility of adverse reaction to Mexico from the U.S. business community or citizens.
He cited what he called "an interesting phenomena taking place here in America about the French."
With many Americans unhappy at French opposition to war, Bush noted "a backlash against the French, not stirred up by anybody except by the people."
If Mexico – or other countries – oppose the United States, he said, "There will be a certain sense of discipline." But he quickly added, "I expect Mexico to be with us."
He joked about a comment in yesterday's New York Times suggesting that Bush "does keep score" when countries oppose him. "I wouldn't believe everything you read," he said with a laugh.
Bush described himself at peace with the decisions he has made.
"I'm sleeping well at night. I am sustained by the prayers of the people," he said. "People walk up to me all the time and say, 'I pray for you and your family, Mr. President,' for which I am most grateful."
He said he is also sustained by his own prayers, noting, "I'm reading the Bible every day."
He added, "This is a difficult decision for any president to make. I've thought about the consequence of doing nothing. I've thought about the consequences of military action."
But he said the blame for any war falls on Hussein for his failure to abide by 12 years of U.N. demands for disarmament.
Bush bristled at a question suggesting he was motivated by Hussein's attempt to assassinate his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and current first lady Laura Bush.
In April 1993, a car bomb from Iraq was intercepted in Kuwait. Officials say the target was former President Bush, who was visiting Kuwait with former first lady Barbara Bush, their son Neil Bush, his wife, Sharon, and Laura Bush.
"The fact that he tried to kill my father and my wife shows the nature of the man. . . . He's cold-blooded. He's a dictator. He's a tyrant," Bush said. "And the decision I'm making, and have made, to disarm Saddam Hussein is based upon the security of the American people."