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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Set to 'Take On' Saddam

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W. Bush declared Wednesday that "all options are on the table'' -- including nuclear weapons -- to confront states that threaten to use weapons of mass destruction, as he issued his strongest warning to date that his administration plans to take on Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

"He is a problem, and we're going to deal with him,'' Bush said of the Iraqi leader.

The president used his first full-scale news conference in five months to make clear that America's deterrence strategy would extend to states such as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea to deter them from using chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies.

Bush played down the remaining threat represented by Osama bin Laden, saying he does not know where the al-Qaida leader is and dismissing the man he once wanted "dead or alive'' as "a person who has now been marginalized.'' He called bin Laden "the ultimate parasite who found weakness, exploited it, and met his match. ... I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run.''

He said U.S. troops are "performing brilliantly'' in the most recent battle in Afghanistan's Shahikot Valley and cautioned that "there'll be other battles in Afghanistan.''

But his emphasis was plainly elsewhere. Bush coupled the war on terrorism with longstanding U.S. grievances against Iraq and other hostile powers pursuing weapons of mass destruction. "We've got all our options on the table because we want to make it very clear to nations that you will not threaten the United States or use weapons of mass destruction against us or our allies or friends,'' Bush said, repeating the "all options on the table'' phrase later in his news conference.

Handling questions for 45 minutes in the White House briefing room, a high-spirited and confident Bush said his administration was committed to consulting with allies. But he suggested that he may have to lead reluctant friends into military action.

"It's going to require a resolve and firmness from the United States of America,'' he said. "One of the things I've learned in my discussions and at least listening to the echo chamber out there in the world is that if the United States were to waver, some in the world would take a nap when it comes to the war on terror. And we're just not going to let them do that.''

Bush opened with a statement of support for judicial nominee Charles Pickering, whose confirmation in the Senate appears doomed, and he sprinkled throughout his remarks challenges to Congress to yield to his wishes on a variety of policies. But the roiling events in the Middle East and Central Asia repeatedly turned Bush's focus back to the war effort.

Bush chastised Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for incursions into the West Bank, saying "it's not helpful what the Israelis have recently done'' -- but he did not call on Israel to withdraw.

There was no such equivocation on the topic of his anti-terrorism efforts, which he likened to World War II. "I believe this war is more akin to World War II than it is to Vietnam -- this is a war in which we fight for the liberties and freedom of our country,'' he said.

Bush, a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard during Vietnam who did not see combat, said he had learned the lessons of that war: Having a "clear mission'' and keeping politics out. He described his current effort in the noblest of terms. "History has called us to action, and I am going to seize this moment for the good of the world, for peace in the world and for freedom,'' he said.

The president made clear that action against Hussein would come. While reassuring jittery partners that "the first stage is to consult with our allies and friends,'' he added: "I am deeply concerned about Iraq, and so should the American people be concerned about Iraq. And so should people who love freedom be concerned about Iraq.''

At one point while discussing Hussein, Bush closed his eyes and shook his head in exasperation. "One thing I will not allow is a nation such as Iraq to threaten our very future by developing weapons of mass destruction,'' he said.