Fri, Mar 15, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Saddam overtakes bin Laden on US president's hit list


US President George W. Bush declared that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is a menace "and we're going to deal with him," and said Osama bin Laden -- a man he once wanted dead or alive -- has been reduced to a marginal figure in the war on terrorism.

"He's the ultimate parasite who found weakness, exploited it and met his match," Bush said of the suspected mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks. "I truly am not that concerned about him."

In his first full-blown news conference in five months, the US leader produced strong rhetoric on the war and America's enemies. Bush said he is leaving "all options on the table" as the Pentagon reworks its nuclear weapons policy to deter any attack on the US -- including from non-nuclear states such as Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria.

Critics say the Pentagon's plans to produce less-powerful nuclear weapons make it more likely that the US will eventually launch a nuclear attack. But Bush said a modern nuclear arsenal is "a way to say to people who would harm America: `Don't do it.' ... that there is a consequence."

"The president must have all options available to make that deterrent have meaning," he said.

Bush's eyes grew red and moist as he talked about slain US servicemen in Afghanistan. "I feel responsible" when troops are harmed, he said. "I'm not very good about concealing my emotions."

In a slap at one of the closest US allies, Bush criticized Israel for escalating military action against Palestinians. "It's not helpful what the Israelis have recently done," he said.

Still, the president said Israel has a right to protect itself and expressed optimism that US envoy Anthony Zinni would be able to reduce violence during his Middle East trip.

Bush drew a sharp distinction between his war on terrorism and the Middle East conflict: "Unlike our war against al-Qaeda, there is a series of agreements in place that will lead to peace."

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