Friday, February 14, 2003 - 01:06 a.m. Pacific
Understanding the U.S.-Iraq conflict
War on terrorism
Bush challenges U.N. leaders to confront Iraq or 'fade into history'
By Seattle Times news services
MAYPORT NAVAL STATION, Fla. — On the eve of a U.N. session that may determine whether the United States goes to war accompanied by many allies or a few, President Bush yesterday said the United Nations must help him confront Saddam Hussein or "fade into history as an ineffective, irrelevant, debating society."
Speaking to sailors and other naval personnel here, Bush listed the countries and groups that have expressed support for military action against Iraq and urged the U.N. Security Council to authorize military force.
The United States says Iraq has weapons of mass destruction in violation of several U.N. resolutions, an assertion Baghdad denies. Bush has said war is his last resort to disarm Saddam while making it clear time is running out on other options.
"I'm optimistic that free nations will show backbone and courage in the face of true threats to peace and freedom," Bush said. "The decision is this for the United Nations: When you say something, does it mean anything? You've got to decide: If you lay down a resolution, does it mean anything?"
The president spoke 24 hours before chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix was to deliver a climactic report on the search for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in Iraq. The Bush administration is treating the U.N. Security Council meeting as a prelude to a final decision on war, and it plans to press recalcitrant allies — notably France and Germany — on the need to give up on further inspections and move toward forcibly disarming Saddam.
The significance of today's meeting of the 15-member Security Council is reflected by who will be there. Among the attendees: Secretary of State Colin Powell, who issued a strong indictment of Saddam in the same forum last week. At least eight other foreign ministers also were planning to attend, including those from the four other veto-wielding permanent members — China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom.
The United States does not plan to follow Blix's report with the immediate introduction of a new resolution authorizing military force, according to a State Department official.
Instead, Powell will try to use the report to sway other council members to the U.S. view that Saddam's chance to disarm peacefully has expired, the official said.
In November, the Security Council passed Resolution 1441, which presented Iraq with a "final opportunity" to comply with demands that it disarm itself of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and programs. Noncompliance would be met with "serious consequences" — diplomatic code for war.
Blix will tell Security Council members he is "not impressed" with Baghdad's cooperation with inspections since his last report in late January, but will stop short of saying Iraq has been totally non-cooperative, U.N. officials said.
But the most potentially explosive issue Blix will discuss is Iraqi production and deployment of missiles with ranges beyond limits set by the United Nations, and its possession of hundreds of prohibited engines to power them.
Iraqi refusal to destroy the missiles, which can reach well beyond the 93-mile limit imposed by the Security Council after the 1991 Gulf War, would constitute the most direct and visible defiance of the United Nations since inspections resumed in late November after a four-year hiatus.
An independent panel of experts, convened this week by Blix, analyzed information submitted by Iraq on tests of the al-Samoud 2 missile and determined a range that reportedly exceeded the limit by as many as 24 miles.
Officials said last night Blix was still wrestling with whether to use his own authority to order Iraq to destroy them, or to simply report the missile violations and await the council's decision on what to do about them.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's closest ally, said the disclosure could represent the smoking gun sought by arms inspectors and Saddam's opponents.
"If the news is true, that is a significant breach," Blair said in London.
Iraqi officials denied the missiles violate U.N. resolutions.
They said the al-Samouds were analyzed without considering the weight of their usual guidance systems, which would make them heavier and bring their range into compliance.
Blix has been under strong U.S. pressure to emphasize the negative aspects of his findings, on grounds that Resolution 1441, passed in November, was Iraq's "final opportunity" to "fully" disarm and comply with inspections. Anything short of full cooperation, the Bush administration contends, is grounds for declaring Iraq in "material breach" of the resolution and for consideration of war.
Blix will indicate Iraq has made some progress in arranging private interviews with weapons scientists and technicians, but will point out that only three of a number of requested interviews have so far taken place outside the presence of Iraqi government minders. Blix will note Iraq still has not unconditionally agreed to U-2 surveillance-plane overflights, and will indicate that documents recently turned over by Baghdad have provided little pertinent information.
The top U.N. nuclear-weapons inspector said yesterday inspections should continue.
"We're still in midcourse, but we are moving forward, and I see no reason for us to bring the inspection process to a halt," Mohamed ElBaradei said as he drafted his report on a flight from Vienna, Austria, to New York.
U.N. officials said Blix would address a French proposal to triple the number of inspectors.
With or without new U.N. support, war seems inevitable, probably by early March, or sooner if Saddam attempts to strike first.
"If force becomes necessary to secure our country and to keep the peace, America will act deliberately, America will act decisively, and America will act victoriously with the world's greatest military," Bush said. "Our military will be fighting the oppressors of Iraq, not the people of Iraq."
The president delivered his rallying cry at Mayport because the naval station in Florida supplied some of the first ships dispatched to join the war on terrorism in Afghanistan. The guided missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea, which fired missiles into Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War and returned from the Afghanistan conflict last week, served as his backdrop.
Drawing a link between the war on terrorism and Iraq, Bush said "the gravest danger facing America and the world" comes from "outlaw regimes" armed with or trying to acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
"At any moment during the last 97 days, and during the last 12 years, Saddam Hussein could have completely and immediately disarmed himself," Bush said. "He must hope that by stalling, he'll buy himself another 12 years. He's wrong."
Compiled from the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press and Knight Ridder Newspapers.
Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company
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