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Bush vows to press hunt for Saddam

White House calls post-transition questions premature

From John King
CNN Senior White House Correspondent

President Bush tells the Financial Times of London that the United States will maintain a military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan
President Bush tells the Financial Times of London that the United States will maintain a military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan "until the job is done."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House said Friday that U.S. troops would remain in Iraq until Saddam Hussein is killed or captured.

But the administration would not publicly discuss any legal or political arrangements that might be necessary if the former Iraqi president is still at large when the U.S.-led coalition turns over power to a new Iraqi government.

Press Secretary Scott McClellan said it was hypothetical to discuss any arrangements that might be necessary.

But the issue could become a factor in the urgent negotiations now under way to speed the transfer of power to a new Iraqi government.

In an interview with London's Financial Times, President Bush said the United States would maintain a military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan "until the job is done," and he answered yes when asked if that definition included accounting for Osama bin Laden and Saddam. (Bush prepares to visit Great Britain)

The continuing U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan was a negotiated part of the agreement to turn political power over to the interim government led by Hamid Karzai.

Asked if the United States would insist on a similar agreement as part of any transition plan in Iraq, McClellan said it was a premature question.

Many members of the Iraqi Governing Council have said they want the U.S. military to leave as soon as possible, but senior administration officials say that part of any transfer of power would have to include arrangements for some continued U.S. and international military presence.

At his morning briefing with reporters, McClellan said such questions were hypothetical and premature because the hunt for Saddam continues, and there is at the moment no agreement on a timetable for turning over power to a new Iraqi government.

But he also several times reiterated that it is the president's view that "finishing the job" in Iraq includes accounting for Saddam.

"It is only a matter of time," before the former Iraqi president is found, McClellan said.


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