President Bush said Wednesday that "ending this direct and growing threat" from Saddam Hussein would pave way for peace in the Middle East and inspire democracy throughout the Arab world.
While saying the Iraqi regime still has time to avoid war, Bush told conservative backers that U.S. troops are ready for battle.
"The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people," Bush told the American Enterprise Institute. "Yet we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another."
Bush predicted there would be a "new stage for Middle East peace" once Saddam loses power. Iraq would no longer threaten to dominate the region with weapons of mass destruction, Bush said, and he accused Saddam of financing suicide bombers.
"A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region, by bringing hope and progress to the lives of millions," Bush said.
"We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more," Bush declared.
Bush said Arab nations will be inspired by democratic reform in Iraq. "A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom to other nations of the region," he said.
Bush reiterated his demand that Palestinians curb "terrorism" but also urged the new Israeli government to end construction of settlements. "As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end," Bush said.
He said Saddam's removal will give both sides a chance to bury their differences in a more stable environment. "The safety of the American people depends on ending this direct and growing threat," he said.
The president told allies, "The danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons cannot be ignored or wished away."
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