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Analysis: President Bush Discounts Impact Of Anti-War Protest Marches Around The World

All Things Considered: February 18, 2003

Bush Unswayed by Anti-War Demonstrations

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

President Bush said today he would not be swayed by the massive crowds of anti-war protesters who marched in cities around the world over the weekend. The president said a new UN resolution would be helpful, but in the same sentence, he said that such a resolution is not necessary. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from the White House.

DON GONYEA reporting:

This was the first public appearance by the president since the weekend rallies here and in Europe demonstrated the intensity of opposition to the war. The official reason Mr. Bush stood before cameras in the Roosevelt Room of the West Wing was the swearing in of the new chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. But when questions were allowed, they were all about Iraq and the anti-war protests. He was asked about the millions who took to the streets on both sides of the Atlantic in opposition to his approach on Iraq.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Two points. One is that democracy's a beautiful thing, and that people are allowed to express their opinion, and I welcome people's right to say what they believe. Secondly, evidently, some in the world don't view Saddam Hussein as a risk to peace. I respectfully disagree.

GONYEA: The president said war is his last choice, and that the real risk for the future would come from doing nothing. As for the size of the protests, and specifically the implications for Prime Minister Tony Blair, his staunch ally in Britain, the president had this to say.

Pres. BUSH: First of all, you know, size of protests--it's like deciding, `Well, I'm going to decide policy based upon a focus group.' The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon, in this case, the security of the people.

GONYEA: The president also spoke about the ongoing debate at the United Nations, where other nations in the Security Council have become more vocal in their opposition to war. The UN passed Resolution 1441 last November, requiring Iraq to disarm or face serious consequences. The US says Iraq has not complied and that the next step is military action. Now a new UN resolution is being discussed, but such a resolution would also face a possible veto by France, Russia and China, all of which are saying weapons inspectors should be given more time. President Bush's reaction to all of this today?

Pres. BUSH: We don't need a second resolution. It's clear this guy could even care less about the first resolution. He's in total defiance of 1441. But we want to work with our friends and allies and see if we can get a second resolution. That's what we're doing right now.

GONYEA: The president made it very clear he does not support wording that would give Saddam Hussein one last chance to comply.

Pres. BUSH: You mean another, 'nother, 'nother last chance? Well, he knows my feelings, and that is he needs to disarm completely, totally disarm. Listen, he's a fellow that likes to buy time by deception and delay. He believes time is on his side. After all, he was quoted in an Egyptian newspaper saying all he's got to do is stall and defy the world and, you know, coalitions will fall apart.

GONYEA: So the White House moves into a critical period on Iraq. It's bumping up against its own deadline set by the president's statement at the end of January that the crisis would break in weeks, not months. The White House had planned on using these weeks to knit together the last strands of international support for a war, but instead the president finds opposition stiffening among countries the US once thought would be on board, making it more likely than ever he will have to make good on his own warnings that he would move without the support of the United Nations. Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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