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Excerpts from Remarks by the President to the Press Pool, December 31, 2002 (Full transcript)

QUESTION: Sir, why should we be more worried about Saddam Hussein, who has no nuclear weapons, than Kim Chong-il, who is unstable and does have nuclear weapons?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think it's important to remember that Saddam Hussein was close to having a nuclear weapon. We don't know whether or not he has a nuclear weapon. We do expect him to disarm his weapons of mass destruction, that's what we expect.

Secondly, the international community has been trying to resolve the situation in Iraq through diplomacy for 11 years. And for 11 years, Saddam Hussein has defied the international community. And now we've brought the world together to send a clear signal: we expect him to disarm, to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction. The first step in determining whether or not he will do that was discouraging. His declaration was short. And the international community recognized that, that he wasn't forthcoming.

Again, I hope this Iraq situation will be resolved peacefully. One of my New Year's resolutions is to work to deal with these situations in a way so that they're resolved peacefully. But thus far, it appears that, first look, that Saddam Hussein hasn't heard the message.

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QUESTION: Your budget directors put the possible cost of a war with Iraq at in line with the first Gulf War. Why shouldn't Americans view this possible war as possibly crippling our economy, that's already very slow?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, an attack from Saddam Hussein or a surrogate of Saddam Hussein would cripple our economy. My biggest job and most important job is to protect the security of the American people, and I am going to do that. And I had made the case and will continue to make the case that Saddam Hussein -- a Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is a threat to the security of the American people.

QUESTION: But can this economy afford to fight a war?

THE PRESIDENT: This economy cannot afford to stand an attack. And I'm going to protect the American people. The economy is strong, it's resilient. Obviously, so long as somebody is looking for work, we've got to continue to make it strong and resilient. My most important job is to protect America and Americans, and I take that job seriously. And that's exactly what this administration is going to do.

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QUESTION: Mr. President, looking ahead here, with a possible war with Iraq looming, North Korea nuclear conflict as well as Osama bin Laden still at large, is the world safer as we look ahead to 2003?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, it's a lot safer today than it was a year ago, and it's going to be safer after this year than it was this year because the United States of America will continue to lead a vast coalition of freedom loving countries to disrupt terrorist activities, to hold dictators accountable, particularly those who ignore international norm and international rule. And the American -- this government will continue lead the world toward more peace. And the American people need to be mindful of the fact that our government is committed to peace and committed to freedom.

And we hope to resolve all the situations in which we find ourselves in a peaceful way. And so that's my commitment, to try to do so peacefully. But I want to remind people that, Saddam Hussein, the choice is his to make as to whether or not the Iraqi situation is resolved peacefully.

You said we're headed to war in Iraq -- I don't know why you say that. I hope we're not headed to war in Iraq. I'm the person who gets to decide, not you. I hope this can be done peacefully. We've got a military presence there to remind Saddam Hussein, however, that when I say we will lead a coalition of the willing to disarm him if he chooses not to disarm, I mean it. And we will continue to work to resolve the situation on the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful way.

And it was right here in Crawford, Texas, where I had a meaningful and good discussions with Jiang Zemin. Heck, it wasn't all that long ago that a U.S. leader never spoke to the Chinese leader. And right here in Crawford we had a dialogue where we both committed ourselves to working in a way to convince Kim Chong-il that it's not in his country's interests to arm up with nuclear weapons. And I believe that can be resolved peacefully.

Listen, thank you all. I'm thinking about a little nature walk in a couple of days. Anybody interested?

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