Bush, Blair to Meet at Camp David

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WASHINGTON, March 25 (UPI) — Pres. George W. Bush will meet Wednesday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a two-day summit at Camp David as U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq continued their assault towards Baghdad.

Before his meeting with Blair, the president is scheduled to make a visit early Wednesday to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., the command-and-control center for the Iraqi conflict. While there, top commanders will offer the president a classified military briefing on the progress being made in Iraq. The president will also meet with coalition allies from around the world involved in backing military actions in both Iraq and Afghanistan.


After leaving Tampa, the president will head to Camp David for his meeting with Blair, his closest ally in the Iraqi war. Blair supported the United States’ assertion that Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction were a threat to world security at great political risk and without widespread support among British citizens.

“The United Kingdom is a close ally and the largest coalition military partner with us in Iraq. The president and the prime minister will discuss the progress of the conflict in Iraq, urgent issues of humanitarian relief, reconstruction, and helping the Iraqi people build democratic institutions,” said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.

On Tuesday, Bush said he would seek $74.7 billion from Congress to pay operational and homeland security costs associated with the war in Iraq.

“America has accepted this responsibility. We also accept the cost of supporting our military and the missions we give it. Today I am sending Congress a war time appropriations request of $74.7 billion to fund the needs directly arising from the Iraqi conflict and our global war against terror,” Bush said.

The president made his remarks at the Pentagon as U.S. military forces in Iraq fought sandstorms and Iraqi resistance, pushing across the desert for Baghdad.

“Our coalition is on a steady advance. We’re making good progress. We’re fighting an enemy that knows no rules of law that will wear civilian uniforms, that is willing to kill in order to continue the reign of fear of Saddam Hussein. But we’re fighting them with bravery and courage,” Bush said.

The president signed off Monday on the budget request that includes $53 billion for operations activities such as moving troops into the region, returning them home, and replenishing supplies and munitions.

“My request to Congress will pay for the massive task of transporting a fully equipped military force, both active-duty and Reserve, to a region halfway around the world. This money will cover the current cost of fueling our ships and aircraft and tanks, and of airlifting tons of supplies into the theater of operations,” Bush said. “The supplemental will also allow us to replace the high-tech munitions we are now directing against Saddam Hussein’s regime.”

Another $8 billion would go toward international operations and aid to countries such as Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Afghanistan, the Philippines and Columbia. Of that figure, $3.5 billion would pay for humanitarian relief, reconstruction and repairs to damaged oil fields.

Turkey would get $1 billion in aid, far less than the reported $60 billion it would have received had it allowed some 62,000 U.S. troops to be deployed along its borders.

The White House said that Turkey has made impressive progress over two years in stabilizing and reforming its economy. The Turkish government is nearing agreement with the International Monetary Fund on an economic program that will further strengthen the economy and which the White House fully supports.

As for humanitarian aid, Bush was upbeat.

“This nation and our coalition partners are committed to making sure that the Iraqi citizens who have suffered under a brutal tyrant have got the food and medicine needed as soon as possible,” Bush said.

The request would also set aside $2 billion for homeland security in states and localities. The monies would be given to states in the form of grants provided they meet two conditions: They are committed to protecting specified sites and spend the funds on anti-terror activities.

Another $1.5 billion would be spent on additional security at federal facilities and for the Coast Guard protection of critical U.S. ports. The Federal Bureau of Investigation would receive $500 million.

Cost estimates for the war budget were based on six months of military activity in the region, according to a senior administration official. Bush told congressional leaders on Monday that he wants to see the supplemental request approved by no later than April 11.

“Yesterday I informed the leaders of Congress of these spending requests. The situation in any war is fluid. I reminded them of that fact. And so I’m asking Congress for flexibility in how these funds can be allocated. They heard that message. They also heard the message that the need is urgent,” Bush said. “The wartime supplemental is directly related to winning this war and to securing the peace that will follow this war. I ask Congress to act quickly and responsibly.”

Bush stressed that “business as usual” on Capitol Hill cannot go on during a time of war. He said that the supplemental should not be used as an opportunity to attach unrelated spending measures.

“Every dollar we spend must serve the interests of our nation; and the interests of our nation in this supplemental is to win this war and to be able to keep the peace,” the president said.

Brenden Daly, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said concern exists that the president has not included enough money for homeland security. Democrats believe the allocation for port security should be between $8 billion and $10 billion. Whether the levels of funding for operational costs are sufficient remains to be seen, Daly said.

The White House had been tightlipped over how much it planned to ask for saying it that the buildup of military forces in the region and the actual engagement in combat incurs additional costs above and beyond what the administration has budgeted. Speculation had the price tag for the war at between $70 billion and $90 billion.

A senior administration official told reporters that the first few days of the war gave budget analysts a better picture of which scenario the Pentagon and the White House would seek to fund. It had considered different funding structures dependent on whether U.S. forces met resistance, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein left the country, or if service personnel would be forced into prolonged armed conflict.

It would have cost taxpayers $5 billion a month to have troops sitting in the region as containment measure, the official said. The Pentagon has already spent more than $2.5 billion deploying more than 150,000 troops to the region. The Afghan conflict costs roughly $1.5 billion a month.

Democrats had also criticized the administration for deciding not to release a war budget before hostilities began last week. They said that a war would push the country further into federal deficit spending. Administration officials predict the federal deficit this year will reach $316 billion and approach $400 billion in 2004.

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives J. Denis Hastert, R-Ill., said Monday after his meeting with the president that lawmakers hoped to move the legislation in a “bipartisan manner” to the president’s desk as quickly as possible.

“We need to make certain that our men and women in uniform have the resources necessary to get the job done in Iraq, and I expect that both Republicans and Democrats will support this legislation by overwhelming margins,” Hastert said.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.