For months, many in the international community have complained that Washington is acting unilaterally and not consulting them on vital questions, such as a possible war with Iraq. This week, U.S. President George W. Bush has a chance to silence his critics with what is being called a pivotal address to the United Nations General Assembly.
Washington, 10 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush is set to take his argument for strong action against Iraq to the world on Thursday when he delivers what is expected to be a groundbreaking speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
In the face of growing global and domestic objections to Washington's desire to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Bush is expected to make the administration's strongest case to date for why it believes action must be taken against Iraq, and why now.
Bush's address will come one day after the anniversary of the 11 September attacks on the United States that killed more than 3,000 people and triggered a war on terrorism that Bush now wants to direct against Iraq.
Unidentified U.S. officials say Bush may propose a Security Council resolution that would set a deadline for Iraq to open up to UN arms inspections or face military action. And some analysts say he may present new intelligence information to convince his critics of the need for urgent action, such as photos of Iraqi nuclear facilities or evidence linking Baghdad to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.
Bush's national-security team, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, set the tone for the UN address in separate appearances on U.S. television on 8 September. All four appeared to bury whatever differences have been perceived in their past positions on Iraq, saying that Bush is committed to dealing with the threat that Saddam may eventually use weapons of mass destruction against the U.S., or others.
Raymond Tanter is a professor at the University of Michigan and an analyst at the Washington Institute, a think tank that focuses on the Middle East. "The rationale is that if you wait until it's too late -- and Condoleezza Rice has been saying this over and over -- that if you wait until you see smoking-gun-type evidence, the gun will have been fired and you will have a lethal, radioactive cloud as your base for evidence. And that's a bit too late," Tanter said.
Tanter said he believes that Bush is likely to put the UN's own credibility on the line on 12 September by pointing to its failures to act in the face of continued Iraqi violations of a dozen or so UN resolutions since the 1991 Gulf War. "[Bush] won't use the word 'ultimatum,' [but] I think the president will say that the burden is on the international community in general, and on the United Nations in particular, for Iraqi disarmament. And that if the United Nations doesn't come through, the United States will take unilateral action, along with a 'coalition of the willing,'" Tanter said.
At his Camp David retreat near Washington on Saturday, Bush met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his strongest foreign supporter for taking action against Iraq. Bush told reporters that Saddam, despite promises to get rid of weapons of mass destruction, has flouted UN resolutions for 11 years. Bush said he and other leaders "owe it to future generations to deal with this problem."
Since Bush announced last week that he would consult with U.S. lawmakers and world leaders about possible action against Iraq, there has been a steady flow of new information about Baghdad's weapons programs.
"The New York Times" first reported that Iraq has sought unsuccessfully over the last 14 months to buy thousands of special aluminum tubes that could be used to build centrifuges to make nuclear-weapons-grade uranium.
Then, on 6 September, Hans Blix, the head of the UN's Iraqi weapons-inspections team, said satellite photos of Iraq show conspicuous construction at sites the UN team visited in the 1990s to search for weapons. Blix also said Iraq has not been reporting to the UN its "dual-use" imports, goods that can be used for both peaceful and military programs.
And yesterday, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, an independent London-based think tank, released a report saying that although Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs have weakened since 1991, Baghdad could still build a nuclear warhead quickly if it acquired enriched uranium with foreign assistance.
Finally, on 8 September, Vice President Cheney mentioned something that administration officials have not spoken of for a long time, a possible link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. Cheney recalled what he termed "credible but unconfirmed" reports that Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the 11 September attacks, met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in the spring of 2001.
All of this has fueled speculation that Bush may drop a bombshell of fresh revelations in his address to the UN, much as Adlai Stevenson did in 1962 when the U.S. ambassador to the UN unveiled reconnaissance photos of Russian nuclear missiles in Cuba. Those photos helped change skeptical world opinion about whether Moscow had, in fact, deployed the missiles to Cuba to target Washington.
Some analysts, such as Tanter of the Washington Institute, say they don't expect any dramatic new information from Bush on Thursday.
Kenneth Allard isn't sure, either. But the former U.S. Army colonel, now an analyst at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, told RFE/RL that if he could advise Bush, he would urge him to reveal vital, clear intelligence that could sway international opinion. "I think it almost has got to be placed in very, very stark terms: photographic [evidence], if possible, [or] other means potentially. There is nothing that can convince the world as readily as that kind of hard-core evidence that is not susceptible to being misinterpreted," Allard said.
Allard also said that in order to drive his point home to skeptics, Bush should emphasize the danger that an Iraq armed with nuclear weapons poses to security in the Persian Gulf, the chief source of the world's oil. "This is a man who had invaded Kuwait, who had every possibility of going on to invade Saudi Arabia, as well. So I would say it is the point to be made and made explicitly, particularly to the people in the leadership positions in Europe and in Asia, whose economies are absolutely dependent on Persian Gulf oil, that the prospect of a nuclear-armed Saddam is simply not one that they can afford, either," Allard said.
UN weapons inspectors left Baghdad in December 1998, just prior to U.S. and British air strikes to punish Saddam for blocking inspections. Iraq has refused to allow them back in since.
Still, analysts say that while Bush is likely to call for their immediate return, it will not be the emphasis of his speech, since the return of UN inspectors opens the door to possible concessions to Saddam, something Washington, with its official policy of "regime change" in Baghdad, wants to avoid at all costs.
Tanter said Bush's emphasis, instead, will be on disarmament. "If I were writing his speech," Tanter said, "the headline I'd like to see the next day is, 'Bush Calls For Disarming Iraq,' not for the inspectors' return."