WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Forcibly disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction if it fails to comply with international mandates would show the resolve of free nations to defend peace and serve as a sharp warning to others that "the path of aggression" would lead to their own ruin, President George W. Bush said Thursday.
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, he said, is "actively deceiving" U.N. weapons inspectors and is hiding proscribed weapons and their components and agents, including chemical and biological materials.
"Military action is this nation's last option, but let me tell you what's not an option: Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not an option," he said. "Denial and endless delay in the face of growing danger is not an option.
"Leaving the lives and the security of the American people at the mercy of this dictator and his weapons of mass destruction, not an option."
The president made the comments at the end of a speech in Kennesaw, Ga., touting his 10-year, $674 billion economic growth package.
Earlier in the week the White House made it plain that it planned to table a new resolution against Iraq in the U.N. Security Council possibly next week, but would act outside the U.N. aegis to disarm Iraq forcibly if the international body dithered on imposing serious consequences -- including military action -- over Baghdad's failure to fully cooperate and comply with weapons inspections and disarmament mandates.
Some 150,000 U.S. troops are already in the region around Iraq, prepared to forcibly disarm Baghdad if needed. Britain has committed about 40,000 troops to what Bush has called a "coalition of the willing," while Australia has sent 2,000.
Iraq's possession of proscribed weapons poses a threat to the region and U.S. and allied security, Washington argues, and the materials -- Iraq was known to have them in the late 1990s -- could be passed on to terrorist organizations.
Washington argues it does not need a new resolution, backing up the one passed in November, to employ force against Baghdad. By repeatedly defying previous disarmament mandates which ended the 1991 Gulf War, the United States and others would be justified in taking military action, it says.
Bush repeated Saddam's removal would spell a new period of freedom for the Iraqi people, who will be provided medical and food aid almost as soon as troops entered the country if Saddam continued to defy the international community.
"If we liberate the Iraqi people, they can rest assured that we will help them build a country that is disarmed and peaceful and united and free," Bush said.
"The disarmament of Iraq will also demonstrate that free nations have the will and resolve to defend the peace. By defeating this threat, we will show other dictators that the path of aggression will lead to their own ruin."
France, China and Russia, permanent members of the Security Council with veto powers, are opposed to military force against Iraq and want inspectors to have more time to continue their operations, an argument which has fallen on deaf ears in Washington.
"Iraq has provided the United Nations with nothing (it promised)," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "The situation on the ground is not good."