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Bush and Blair Report Progress in War

Bush and Blair Report Progress in War

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THURMONT, Md. (AP) -- President Bush and top war ally British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged Thursday to keep their forces in Iraq however long it takes to overthrow Saddam Hussein. They also agreed on a role for the United Nations in a postwar Iraq.

"We have one objective in mind -- victory," Bush said.

Joining in, Blair said the coalition's agenda is "not set by time, it's set by the nature of the job."

Bush and Blair, in a joint news conference at Bush's Camp David, Md., mountaintop hideaway, called for an immediate resumption of the U.N. "Oil for Peace" program to help speed the distribution of food and medical supplies to Iraqis. About 60 percent of Iraq's 22 million people are fed through the program, which was suspended with the onset of hostilities.

Both leaders gave an upbeat assessment of what had been accomplished during the first week of the war. "Together, coalition forces are advancing day by day in steady progress against the enemy," Bush declared

Bush and Blair Report Progress in War

Even so, neither Bush nor Blair would set a timetable for the war's conclusion.

"However long it takes to win. However long it takes to achieve our objective. However long it takes," Bush said. "It's not a matter of timetable, it's a matter of victory."

Bush and Blair were briefed on the progress of the war in Iraq after a week of fierce combat, and their meeting took place amid growing signs that Iraqi forces have dug in for a prolonged fight.

Blair said he and the president had decided to seek new U.N. resolutions on humanitarian relief, a postwar administration for Iraq and a promise to keep Iraq's territorial boundaries intact.

But differences appeared to remain on the extent of the U.N. role in governing. Blair has advocated a more aggressive role for the world body in a postwar government than has Bush.

"No doubt, the United nations has got to be closely involved in this process," Blair said. He said he and Bush agreed on "principles," but that there are "huge numbers of details to be discussed with our allies as to exactly how that is going to work."

Blair and Bush appeared in front of a display of British and American flags in a helicopter hangar on the grounds of the secluded presidential retreat.

"Iraq will be disarmed of weapons of mass destruction. And the Iraqi people will be freed. That is our commitment. That is our determination, and we will see it done," Blair said.

In Washington, at a Senate hearing Thursday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was asked about diplomatic efforts by Arab nations or the United Nations to arrange a cease-fire.

"I have no idea what some country might propose, but there isn't going to be a cease-fire," Rumsfeld told a Senate Appropriations panel.

Under the Oil-for-Food program, Iraq is allowed to sell unlimited quantities of oil as long as the money goes mainly to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian goods for Iraq's people.

But the U.N. Security Council has been bitterly divided over the decision by the United States, Britain and Spain to attack Iraq, and that division has spilled over into negotiations to revise the program.

Bush said anew that any Iraqi that launched chemical or biological weapons against U.S.-led forces "will be tried as a war criminal."

Blair referred to the deaths of two British soldiers, saying they had been executed. "It is an act of cruelty beyond all human comprehension," the prime minister said.

Both Bush and Blair addressed the lack of support among many traditional allies in war.

"There are many people on our side, there are those that oppose us," Blair acknowledged. But he also said he had "no doubt that we are doing the right thing, I have no doubt that our cause is just."

Bush insisted: "We have plenty of Western allies. We can give you a list."

Blair, under fire at home for supporting the invasion of Iraq, is pressing for a strong U.N. role in rebuilding. And he says the

United States and its allies must broaden their agenda beyond Iraq to help build peace in the Middle East and across the globe.

Bush arrived at his retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains on Wednesday afternoon in a driving rain, following a quick trip to Florida, where he'd sought to rally the troops and the American people behind the Iraq war at a time when U.S. forces are suffering casualties.

Thursday's Bush-Blair meeting came 60 years after President Roosevelt met Winston Churchill at the Maryland presidential retreat in the depths of World War II.

Churchill was the first foreign leader to visit a U.S. president at Camp David. At their summit in May 1943, the getaway was still known as Shangri-La.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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