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Bush Noncommittal on Saddam Handover

Bush Noncommittal on Saddam Handover

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush said Tuesday the United States will turn over former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to the new Iraqi interim government but declined to set a timetable, saying "appropriate security" must first be in place.

Neither the United States nor the new Iraq government wants there "to be lax security and for Saddam Hussein to not stand trial," Bush said in a Rose Garden news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Bush also said it will be up to the new government to determine what to do about radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

"The interim Iraqi government will deal with al-Sadr as they see fit," Bush said. "They will deal with him appropriately."

The former Iraqi dictator has been in U.S. custody in an undisclosed location since he was found in December, but his status has been under discussion as the June 30 end of the U.S.-led occupation approaches.

Bush said again that the United States "did absolutely the right thing" in removing Saddam from power, calling him a "destabilizing force."

Earlier Tuesday, interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Saddam and other detainees would be transferred to Iraqi authorities in the next two weeks.

Allawi said Saddam would stand trial "as soon as possible" but gave no time frame.

But Bush declined to be pinned down on timing.

"I want to make sure that when sovereignty is transferred, Saddam Hussein stays in jail," Bush said.

"We're over there for a reason," he added, noting that the U.S. military would continue to provide security for Iraq for the time being.

Bush said that the "appropriate time for the transfer of Saddam Hussein" was one of several remaining major issues that the United States is working on with the new Iraqi interim government.

Bush and Karzai fielded questions on a range of subjects.

With the prospects of rising interest rates, Bush was asked if he thought he would have the same problems his father had in 1992 when a weak economy contributed to his re-election defeat.

"The economic stimulus plan we put in place is working. There are new jobs being added," Bush said.

He was also asked about remarks made at Ronald Reagan's burial service last Friday by Ron Reagan, the late former president's son, that appeared to criticize politicians who seek to capitalize on religion for political gain.

"I think it's important for people of religion to serve," Bush said. At the same time, he said it was "important for people who are serving" to know that "it's important there's a separation of church and state."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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