United States President George W. Bush on Tuesday warned Europeans skittish about possible US military action to topple Iraq's Saddam Hussein that the regime in Baghdad poses a threat to them.
"Iraq ought to be on the minds of the German people, and they ought to be on the minds of the American people. Because the Iraq government is a dangerous government," he told Germany's ARD television, cited by AFP. "We've got to deal with it."
The US leader also vowed to keep speaking out against "axis of evil" nations Iraq, North Korea and Iran, while acknowledging that key US allies have given his label a skeptical and sometimes even dismissive welcome.
"I know there's a lot of angst about my statements about these nations, but I have the responsibility to speak as clearly as I possibly can about how I view the nature of these regimes. And I will continue doing that," he told reporters from Germany, Russia, France and Italy.
The "axis" label prompted an exchange of rhetorical fire between the United States and Europe earlier this year when French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine shrugged it off as "simplistic," prompting US Secretary of State Colin Powell to suggest that Vedrine was suffering from "vapors."
Bush's remarks came on the eve a week-long trip to Europe aimed at smoothing tensions over issues such as trade and the Middle East, while shoring up support for the "war on terrorism," the next major target of which is widely thought to be Iraq.
In an apparent bid to reassure European allies and Russia, which have opposed any offensive to remove Saddam, Bush said he has "no military plans on my desk that that plots out a military operation. I'm looking at all options."
"And of course, I'll consult closely with our allies and friends," discussing Iraq policy when he meets with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder later this week as well as at stops in Russia, France, and Italy.
"I will be very blunt in my assessment of his - 'his' being Saddam Hussein's - threat to the freedom of the world. But this is a threat that we better take seriously. And we better take it seriously now," said the US leader.
Asked whether he believed Baghdad had been contained, Bush countered that "How can you 'contain' somebody when they've got the ability to blackmail or launch a weapon? And that is my deep concern."
The president also renewed his demand for "unfettered, whole, free inspections" in Iraq, aimed at determining whether Saddam is working to acquire biological, chemical, or nuclear arms.
"This is a man who's denied inspections for years. I wonder why. I think the world ought to ask, 'why won't you allow for inspections?'" said Bush, whose tone left no doubt he believes Baghdad is seeking weapons of mass destruction.
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