Bush Challenges U.N to Assert 'Some Backbone'; the President Said the United States Is Ready to "Deal with It" Alone in a War with Iraq.(PAGE ONE)

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Byline: Joyce Howard Price, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President Bush said yesterday the United Nations "should show some backbone" and confront Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's chronic defiance of its resolutions, warning the United States was prepared to act alone if necessary.

"Make no mistake about it. If we have to deal with the problem, we'll deal with it," Mr. Bush said in remarks at Camp David, Md., where he hosted Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who shares the president's view that the United Nations should not let Saddam continue to flout resolutions he signed after losing the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

Mr. Berlusconi told reporters at the presidential retreat in Western Maryland that the United Nations "cannot continue to see its image undermined and its resolutions flaunted." Mr. Bush made that argument Thursday in a his speech at the United Nations and repeated it yesterday in his weekly radio address and in a press conference, where he introduced Mr. Berlusconi.

Vice President Richard B. Cheney echoed the president's pledge to strike Saddam alone, if necessary, in an interview on CNN's "Novak, Hunt & Shields" yesterday. The remarks of the top two U.S. leaders showed that the administration is hardening its stance on its intention to eliminate Saddam and his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Cheney said it was "pretty clear" from Mr. Bush's speech to the United Nations "that we'd prefer to do this on an international basis with the approval and cooperation and support of other nations."

Mr. Cheney said Mr. Bush went to the United Nations because "he wants the U.N. to address and solve the problem.

"But if they don't, then the United States will be left with no choice but to do so. This is such an important problem that we will address it by ourselves if we have to," Mr. Cheney said.

The United States is trying to build international support to oust Saddam because of his refusal to comply with U.N. resolutions that required him to end production of weapons of mass destruction. Iraq kicked U.N. weapons inspectors out of the country in 1998, sparking the current crisis.

In the past two weeks, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and other administration officials have stepped up the rhetoric about the need for possible military action against Iraq. They've cited intelligence reports that show Saddam has expanded his chemical and biological capabilities in the past decade and is close to developing a nuclear bomb.

"Should his regime acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year," Mr. Bush said in his radio address.

He also quoted remarks made by Richard Butler, former chief of the U.N. weapons inspection program, who has blamed Iraq's problems on Saddam's authoritarian regime.

"Saddam Hussein is a homicidal dictator, who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Butler said.

One option for dealing with this problem, which Mr. Bush outlined Thursday, would be for the U.N. Security Council to pass a tough new resolution requiring that Baghdad be subject to unconditional and unrestricted weapons inspections. But the president and other proponents of this measure, including British officials, insist the resolution would have to stipulate Saddam would be subject to military attack if he fails to comply. On Friday, Mr, Bush demanded that the resolution set a near-term deadline for Saddam's compliance.

On CNN, Mr. Cheney stressed that it won't be enough for Saddam to merely allow weapons inspectors back into his nation after a four-year absence.

"The test is going to be whether or not [the United Nations] can come up with an effective program to guarantee that he no longer has this [weapons] capability. He's going to have to give up his biological and his chemical weapons and his nuclear-weapons program. …