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Bush, Blair: No timetable for war

Leaders call on U.N. to resume oil-for-food program

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, and President Bush at a press briefing Thursday.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, and President Bush at a press briefing Thursday.

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President Bush and British Prime Minister Blair say the campaign to topple Saddam Hussein is making steady progress. CNN's John King reports.
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British Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.S. President Bush

Both leaders call for an immediate resumption of the U.N.'s oil-for-food program; Bush says more than half of Iraqis depend on the program.

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CAMP DAVID, Maryland (CNN) -- U.S. President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, steadfast partners in the war in Iraq, declared Thursday there was steady progress in the campaign to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein and dismissed questions on whether that effort was taking longer than expected.

"This isn't a matter of (a) timetable, it's a matter of victory," Bush said, declaring the war would last "however long it takes to win."

Blair, who arrived at the presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains Wednesday evening for talks with Bush, agreed. "There is absolutely no point, in my view, of trying to set a time limit or speculate on it, because it's not set by time," he said. "It's set by the nature of the job."

The leaders also urged the United Nations Thursday to immediately resume the oil-for-food program in Iraq and said they were committed to help rebuilding a postwar Iraq.

The men did not offer specifics on how that would be achieved. Blair cited the United Nations as playing a role in that effort. He said they would seek "new U.N. Security Council resolutions to affirm Iraq's territorial integrity" as well as others dealing with humanitarian relief and "a post-conflict administration for Iraq."

U.N.'s role

Blair said that the president agreed, but Bush never specifically referenced the role of the United Nations.

Sources said there is disagreement within the Bush administration, notably between the Pentagon and the State Department, as to how much of a role the United Nations ought to play in any postwar reconstruction effort.

The Security Council was splintered in the weeks leading up to the war in Iraq and, despite pressure from the United States and Great Britain, did not pass a second resolution authorizing military action.

"There's no doubt at all that the United Nations has got to be closely involved in this process," Blair said. "That's not just right, it's in everyone's interest that it happens."

Bush did not say what role he thought the United Nations should play, but, like Blair, he called for the resumption of the oil-for-food program, which allows Iraq to sell oil under U.N. supervision to buy food and medicine for its people.

"More than half the Iraq people depend on this program as their sole source of food," Bush said at a news conference. Blair met with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Thursday evening to talk about resumption of the program. "There are huge numbers of details to be discussed with our allies as to how, exactly how that is going to work, "Blair said, adding that the first priority was winning the war.

After the Camp David meeting, a senior Bush administration official said there was no major disagreement with Blair over the postwar role of the United Nations in Iraq, and said U.N. Security Council members blocking a resumption of Iraq's oil-for-food program were endangering the lives of Iraqis in need of food and medicine.

Both Bush and Blair want the Security Council to pass revisions to the oil-for-food program so that its escrow account can be used for humanitarian relief to be distributed in conjunction with the coalition war effort. Under current program guidelines, the money goes to the Saddam Hussein regime.

Russia and France are among the nations that have held up a solution; the senior official said Germany, which vehemently opposes the war, was being helpful in the discussions.

The senior U.S. official, referring to the bitter Security Council divide before the war, said, "This is not about trying to fight old battles. This is to try to respond to the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people."

In their comments to reporters, the two men exchanged praise for one another and repeatedly declared their confidence in the military campaign.

"In just under a week, there is a massive amount that has already been achieved," Blair said. "I mean, after all, coalition forces are within 50 miles of Baghdad, the Southern oil fields are secured, the West is protected from external aggression, we've got forces going into the North."

Bush appeared to bristle at suggestions that the war in Iraq enjoyed little global support.

"We've got a huge coalition. As a matter of fact, the coalition that we've assembled today is larger than the one assembled in 1991 in terms of the number of nations participating," Bush said, referring to the Gulf War.

Blair, however, acknowledged a split in Europe. "I mean, there's no point in hiding it; there's been a division," he said, suggesting that some relations would have to be mended once the war in Iraq is over.

"At some point we will have to come back and we'll have to discuss how the disagreement arose," he said.

Looking ahead to the more complicated issue of a postwar Iraqi administration, the Bush senior official said Bush and Blair agreed on the goal of transferring power from the military to a transitional Iraqi administration as soon as possible.

And the official said the leaders agreed that the interim Iraqi leadership should include some opposition figures who have been living outside Iraq, some Kurdish leaders who have relative governing autonomy now in northern Iraq and, to the maximum degree possible, Iraqis now living within the country who are either involved in civilian administration or who emerge as potential postwar leaders in the days and weeks ahead.

The official drew a parallel to the emergence of Hamid Karzai as a leadership figure in Afghanistan.

--White House Correspondents John King and Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

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