U.S. continues to consult on Iraq

By KATHY A. GAMBRELL, UPI White House Reporter  |  March 7, 2003 at 5:03 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 7 (UPI) -- The White House said Friday that the United States would continue to consult with members of the U.N. Security Council as the panel approaches a vote on a resolution that would authorize military action against Iraq for its noncompliance.

"At some point next week, a vote will be called. At that time, nations will raise their hand ... and take a stand," said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

Britain Friday tabled an amendment to the resolution that would give Iraq until March 17 to disarm.

The Bush administration's comments came hours after Hans Blix, executive chairman of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, told the U.N. Security Council that inspectors had found no indication that Iraq has stockpiles of biological weapons or mobile biological units, but that questions still remained.

Fleischer told reporters during a midafternoon briefing that Secretary of State Colin Powell would be consulting with Security Council members later in the day and they would decide exactly when the vote would take place.

The United States had appeared poised to launch a massive military strike against the Arab nation in an effort to force its leader Saddam Hussein to reveal the whereabouts of his stockpile of biological and chemical weapons, destroy its cache of al-Samoud 2 missiles, and allow Iraqi scientists to be privately interviewed by inspectors.

Speaking before the Security Council in New York, Blix told the panel that the Iraqis attempted to persuade inspectors that the al-Samoud 2 missiles fell into the prescribed distance range.

"Iraq has since accepted that these missiles and associated items be destroyed and has started the process of destruction under our supervision," Blix said. As of Friday, he said, 34 banned missiles had been destroyed.

He also said that Iraq provided additional documents on anthrax and VX gas, but mostly restated what Iraq had already declared. Still, Blix said it would take much more time for Iraq to fully disarm.

"While cooperation can and is to be immediate, disarmament, and at any rate verification of it, cannot be instant. Even with a proactive Iraqi attitude induced by continued outside pressure, it will still take some time to verify sites and items, analyze documents, interview relevant persons, and draw conclusions. It will not take years, nor weeks, but months," Blix said.

Fleischer told reporters that U.S. officials were unfazed by the Blix report and were holding fast to the position that Saddam would continue to be deceptive if it meant it could delay a confrontation.

The report Blix delivered to the Security Council stated that there was no indication Iraq had resumed efforts to create nuclear weapons. After a period of not cooperating, there had been "an acceleration of initiative on the Iraq side" since the end of January, he said. But Blix said there continued to be a scarcity of information about Iraq's past programs given to the inspectors.

Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency, said his inspectors have found "no evidence or plausible indication of nuclear activity in Iraq." The Iraqi regime has imported no uranium since 1990, he said, and experts had determined the aluminum tubes acquired by Iraq could not be effectively used to enrich uranium.

Blix said the destruction of al-Samoud 2 missiles was a significant step toward disarmament. Blix had ordered the missiles to be scrapped because their range exceeds the 150 kilometers (93 miles) permitted by the United Nations.

Bush has had a difficult time convincing the majority of the world community that engaging Saddam in military action was the answer to the Arab country's defiance. The week held a series of setbacks for Bush in addition to the three states openly opposing the U.S.-backed resolution.

Last weekend, the Turkish parliament refused to approve U.S. troops moving through its country to open a northern front against Iraq, and though a second vote may be taken, Bush said that the United States could carry its attack to Iraq without that corridor.

France, Germany and Russia vowed Wednesday they would block any effort to approve the U.N. resolution authorizing use of force against Iraq. The three countries, along with China, agree that continued inspections would be more fruitful than armed conflict.

In a prime-time news conference Thursday night, however, Bush noted France was among those countries that voted unanimously in November for Resolution 1441 that demanded Saddam disarm.

On the eve of Blix's formal report to the United Nations Friday, Bush neither criticized nor confronted France and Russia. Mentioning France and Germany, Bush said "they're still our friends and we will deal with them as friends," but he said "we have a disagreement over how to best deal with Saddam Hussein."

An informal vote count of the members of the Security Council showed the United States had few allies.

On Thursday, during the news conference, Bush presented his case before the American people that Saddam remains a threat to the United States and world security. He said that diplomatic efforts were in the final stages and that if he decided to go to war, it would be Saddam's choosing by failing to comply with U.N. Resolution 1441.

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