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Key week as Bush faces national doubts

By NICHOLAS M. HORROCK, UPI Chief White House Correspondent   |   Jan. 26, 2003 at 5:03 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- In the wake of growing doubts about his foreign and domestic policies, President George W. Bush faces a crucial week in his presidency in which he must keep up the pressure on Saddam Hussein even as U.N. inspectors and many world leaders believe military action should be forestalled.

On Monday the weapons inspectors are to report to the U.N. Security Council. They are expected to have new disclosures about evidence of weapons programs they have found in Iraq and gaps in the Iraqi arms declaration, but they are also expected to ask for more time, weeks, perhaps months, to establish if there are weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, officials of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Sunday that it had yet to find any proof of Iraq's alleged secret atomic weapons program and would report that to the Security Council.

At the World Economic Forum in the Swiss village of Davos, Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated that the United States is willing to go it alone. "Multilateralism cannot become an excuse for inaction," he said, but it is clear that the administration now has made a decision on how long to delay action awaiting the inspectors.

Others feel that the enormous deployment of U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf Region may make war inevitable. Jordan's King Abdullah, speaking at Davos, said he thought it "would take miracle to find a dialogue and peaceful solution out of the crisis."

Hussein's key aide British-trained Iraqi Gen. Amir Saadi, too, was not hopeful war could be delayed. "When preparations for war go to this extent, if we go by the First World War and the Second World War, mobilizing is enough to make the process irreversible."

On Tuesday Bush steps before Congress to deliver the traditional State of Union address, in which presidents try to sum up how stands the country. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer show Sunday that the "State of the Union is anxious. Anxious about this war and now the whole world is anxious."

A poll last week by the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan research group, found that 87 percent of Americans believe that Tuesday's State of the Union address is as important or more important than last year's speech.

Whether Bush will be able quell the anxiety is not clear. White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett said Sunday that the president "will talk directly to the American people on Tuesday night about the continuing threat that Saddam Hussein poses and the fact that he is not making the strategic decision to disarm."

But that has been the subject of innumerable Bush speeches since he won passage in the United Nations of Resolution 1441 in September. Over the weekend, as the administration did last week, it sent out a top echelon to try to overcome the doubts about whether war was necessary to disarm Iraq.

White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told Blitzer in an interview that though the administration has no new evidence that Saddam Hussein had any connection to the terrorist attacks, "I think there is a relationship between Saddam Hussein and terrorism, but the important thing is Saddam Hussein does have weapons of mass destruction."

Last week, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz gave a much-heralded speech discussing what he called evidence of Iraq's weapons cache. Later Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave a closed-door briefing to the Senate, but several Democratic senators said they heard little new.

Beyond the American people, Bush has faced growing opposition in Europe. France, which signed Resolution 1441, now wants to wait, and Germany remains opposed to force. British Prime Minister Tony Blair told British television that inspectors in Iraq must be given time to do their job, but if they could not complete it, Saddam may have to be disarmed by force.

A Washington Post story on Jan. 24 quoted military sources who said that in any event, the force levels now deployed to the region are not sufficient for action, and that it would not be until March that the United States would be ready.

A flurry of news agency polls over the past week have shown the president's approval dropping and support for unilateral military action falling away. Though Bush's job approval remains high, as he steps to the podium before Congress Tuesday, he appears embattled, rather than the president who less than three months ago led his party to an astounding midterm victory.

One problem, beyond Iraq and North Korea, has been the perception in several polls that the president is not paying enough attention to the economy.

In his Saturday radio address, Bush outlined several domestic points he planned for the State of the Union including an appeal for his tax cuts, reforming Medicare, and prescription drugs for senior citizens.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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