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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush will address the nation Thursday evening from the deck of an aircraft carrier to say that major combat in Iraq has ended, his spokesman said Wednesday.
But the president will neither declare victory in so many words, nor declare the war to be over, said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.
Bush will make the speech from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln as it steams toward San Diego. The speech will be given while the carrier is still more than a hundred miles off the California coast, Fleischer said.
"He will address the nation just as he did at the beginning of the conflict," Fleischer said. He said the White House has requested time from the television networks to broadcast the speech.
It will be the first time that a president has spoken to the nation from the deck of a moving carrier.
He will speak at 9 p.m. EDT
Bush will stop short of either declaring victory or saying the war is over because pockets of resistance remain and some key missions are unfulfilled, Fleischer said.
Bush previously had said he wanted to hear from Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, before addressing the nation on the progress of the war.
"Yesterday the president spoke with General Franks," Fleischer said. "General Franks told the president that major combat operations have ended and that the next phase has begun, which is the reconstruction of Iraq."
The carrier's home port is Everett, Washington, but was stopping first at San Diego.
The carrier will be so far out to sea that it will beyond the reach of helicopters, Fleischer said. Thus, the president will fly in a small plane that will make a cable-assisted landing on the deck of the carrier, Fleischer said.
The president will spend the night on the carrier, but then leave Friday before it arrives in San Diego. The Lincoln has been at sea for nine months.
"The ship will be hundreds of miles from shore when the president arrives. It will be steaming the entire time. The speech will be given on the moving aircraft carrier literally bringing the sailors and Marines home to their families and loved ones," Fleischer said.
"What the president will talk about is that the major combat operations have ended," Fleischer said.
But he suggested that the president's words would be chosen carefully to keep from formally declaring the war to be over.
Under the Geneva Convention, an international code of conduct that governs war and military conflict, once war is declared over the victorious army must release prisoners of war and halt operations targeting specific leaders.
Although the U.S. led war overturned the regime of Saddam Hussein, Saddam himself has disappeared, as have his two sons and many of his top lieutenants.
"This is not a formal legalistic ending of the conflict, no. It is the fact that major combat operations have ended," Fleischer said.
"The United States military forces continue to be fired at. So there are pockets of danger," he said.
Still, the spokesman said, "He'll talk about how the major combat operations have ended."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)