Bush rejects delaying Iraq vote

/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush said Thursday that Iraq’s elections must not be delayed from their scheduled date of Jan. 30, rejecting calls from more than a dozen political parties there to postpone them until security at the polls can be ensured.

“It’s time for the Iraqi citizens to go to the polls,” Bush told reporters in the Oval Office.

Bush said last week he hoped the elections are not postponed, after 17 political parties in Iraq called on the interim government to put them off for at least six months.

Thursday, he was more forceful in his remarks on the matter.

“The elections should not be postponed,” he said. “It’s time for the Iraqi citizens to go to the polls and that’s why we are very firm on the Jan. 30 date.”

Bush said he had personally approved an expansion of U.S. troop levels in Iraq ahead of the elections. His commanders there had asked for more boots on the ground, and “I’ve honored their request,” he said.

Bush predicted that Iraq’s elections would leave the world “amazed that a society has been transformed so quickly.”

Comments on Ukraine as well
Bush also weighed in on the matter of the election crisis in Ukraine, saying more forcefully than he had previously that other countries must not meddle as that country sorts through the disputed vote.

If there is to be a new election, as many government leaders and Ukrainian demonstrators have demanded, it “ought to be free from any foreign influence,” Bush said.

He did not single out any country, but his words seemed to echo those of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, with whom Bush met this week and who explicitly said Russia must not meddle in the Ukrainian matter.

U.N. corruption probe
Bush steered gingerly around allegations of corruption in the United Nations’ oil-for-food program in Iraq, which first surfaced in January. The charges have escalated. Two weeks ago, a congressional investigation uncovered evidence that Saddam Hussein’s government raised more than $21.3 billion in illegal revenue by subverting U.N. sanctions against Iraq, including the oil-for-food program.

Bush did not answer two questions about whether Annan should resign, as Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., has urged. But he said a thorough investigation was necessary to ensure that U.S. taxpayers can “feel comfortable” as their government pays U.N. dues.

“I look forward to a full disclosure of the facts, a good, honest appraisal of that which went on and it’s important for the integrity of the organization,” he said.