Bush says U.S. in ‘final stages of diplomacy’

President George W. Bush in a carefully orchestrated speech Thursday night issued a series of conditional statements aimed at clarifying and justifying a war with Iraq.

“If we go to war, we will disarm Iraq,” Bush said, in his eighth formal news conference since his inauguration in January 2001. “If we go to war, there will be a regime change.”

When asked if war could happen as soon as next week, Bush said the United States was in the “final stages of diplomacy.”

However, Bush said that diplomacy with Iraq has been futile. Saddam Hussein has had more than 10 years to disarm and hasn’t.

“If the Iraqi regime were disarming, we would know it because we would see it,” he said. “Iraq’s weapons would be presented to inspectors, and the world would witness their destruction.”

Responding to a British plan to give Hussein a final deadline to rid his country of all weapons of mass destruction, Bush shook off the notion.

“If they think more time will cause him to disarm, I disagree with that. He’s a master of deception. He has no intention of disarming.”

Bush said using force is a last resort. If Hussein goes into exile and Iraq willingly restructures its regime and destroys its weapons of mass destruction, war wouldn’t be necessary.

But that seems unlikely. The threat posed by the Iraqi regime is not limited to the United States, Bush said.

“If the world fails to confront the threat posed by the Iraqi regime, refusing to use force even as a last resort, free nations would assume the immense and unacceptable risks,” he said.

Bush also spoke about today’s briefing with the United Nations Security Council. He said lead weapons inspector Hans Blix must answer one question: Has Hussein “fully and unconditionally” disarmed?

Bush doesn’t think he has, claiming any hint of Iraqi cooperation is probably just a stalling tactic. In fact, he called Hussein a “master of deception,” who, during the past week, has ordered the destruction of a few weapons in a “willful charade.”

“Even as he’s destroying these missiles, he’s ordering the continued production of the same types of missiles,” he said.

And even if the United States doesn’t get full support from the U.N., Bush said if he feels there is a threat to the nation, he will move forward without backing.

“If we need to act, we need to act, and we really don’t need the United Nations support to do so,” he said. “When it comes to our security, we really don’t need anyone’s permission.”