WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush declared yesterday that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is a menace “and we’re going to deal with him,” and said Osama bin Laden – a man he once wanted dead or alive – has been reduced to a marginal figure in the war on terrorism.

Paul Wong
President Bush answers questions during a news conference in the briefing room of the White House yesterday. (AP PHOTO)

“He’s the ultimate parasite who found weakness, exploited it, and met his match,” Bush said of the suspected mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks. “I truly am not that concerned about him.”

In his first full-blown news conference in five months, the president produced strong rhetoric on the war and America’s enemies. Bush said he is leaving “all options on the table” as the Pentagon reworks its nuclear weapons policy to deter any attack on the United States – including from non-nuclear states such as Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria.

“The president must have all options available to make that deterrent have meaning,” he said.

Bush, holding his fifth formal White House news conference, fielded questions on more than a dozen issues and sought to defuse the toughest questions with humor.

But his eyes grew red and moist as he talked about slain U.S. servicemen in Afghanistan. “I feel responsible” when troops are harmed, he said. “I’m not very good about concealing my emotions.”

In a slap at one of the closest U.S. allies, Bush criticized Israel for escalating military action against Palestinians. “It’s not helpful what the Israelis have recently done,” he said.

Still, the president said Israel has a right to protect itself and expressed optimism that U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni would be able to reduce violence during his Middle East trip.

Israel contends it is waging war against Palestinian terrorists, but Bush drew a sharp distinction between his war on terrorism and the Mideast conflict: “Unlike our war against al-Qaida, there is a series of agreements in place that will lead to peace.”

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