MADRID (AFP) — US President George W. Bush threatened nations with retaliation if they did not vote for a UN resolution backing the Iraq war, according to a transcript published Wednesday of a conversation he had with former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar.
In the transcript of a meeting on February 22, 2003 -- a month before the US-led invasion of Iraq -- published in El Pais newspaper, Bush tells Aznar that nations such as Mexico, Angola, Chile and Cameroon must know that the security of the United States is at stake.
He says during the meeting on his ranch in Texas that Angola stood to lose financial aid while Chile could see a free trade agreement held up in the US Senate if they did not back the resolution, the left-wing paper said.
The confidential transcript was prepared by Spain's ambassador to the United States at the time, Javier Ruperez, the paper said.
The White House did not challenge the accuracy of the transcript, with national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe declining to comment.
Prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003, Washington unsuccessfully lobbied the 15 members of the UN Security Council for a second resolution paving the way for military action against Iraq if Saddam Hussein failed to comply with demands to disarm.
But during the meeting with Aznar, Bush made it clear the US would invade Iraq by the end of March 2003 whether or not there was a UN resolution to authorize it, El Pais reported.
"We have to get rid of Saddam. There are two weeks left. In two weeks we will be ready militarily. We will be in Baghdad at the end of March," Bush said in the transcript which was translated into Spanish by the newspaper.
"We can win without destruction. We are already planning a post-Saddam Iraq and I think there is a good basis for a better future. Iraq has a good bureaucracy and a relatively robust civil society," he added.
During the meeting Aznar tells Bush that he is worried by the US president's optimism.
"I am optimistic because I believe I am right. I am at peace with myself," Bush responded according to the transcript.
Bush also told Aznar that Saddam wanted to go into exile.
"The Egyptians are speaking to Saddam Hussein. It seems he's indicated he would be prepared to go into exile if he's allowed to take one billion dollars (700 million euros) and all the information he wants about weapons of mass destruction," he said.
Asked by Aznar whether Saddam could leave with a guarantee that he would not be prosecuted, Bush replied: "No guarantee. He is a thief, a terrorist, a war criminal."
"Compared to Saddam, (former Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosovic is a Mother Teresa. When we go in we are going to find many more criminals and take them to the International Court of Justice in The Hague," he added.
Bush said Saddam could be assassinated or even be ousted from power.
"For me that would be the perfect solution. I don't want war," he said in a reference to Saddam's possible ousting from power, while estimating that the operation to remove his regime by force would cost some 50 billion dollars.
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