U.S. President George W. Bush is keeping pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who faces a United Nations deadline on Sunday to make a full declaration of all of his alleged programs of weapons of mass destruction. How Saddam responds to that deadline could determine whether the U.S. decides to wage war against Baghdad.
Washington, 3 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Just a week after United Nations weapons inspectors returned to Iraq, U.S. President George W. Bush is piling the pressure on Saddam Hussein, saying "the signs are not encouraging" that the Iraqi leader is cooperating and disarming.
In a speech at the Pentagon on 2 November, Bush warned that the Iraqi leader has until 8 November -- according to a UN deadline -- to prove that he is working honestly with the UN inspectors, who are looking for evidence of weapons of mass destruction:
"On or before the eighth of December, Iraq must provide a full and accurate declaration of its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic-missile programs. That declaration must be credible and complete, or the Iraqi dictator will have demonstrated to the world once again that he has chosen not to change his behavior."
But in his first major comments on the inspections, Bush said Saddam appears incapable of changing. He referred to recent incidents in which he says Iraq fired on American and British warplanes patrolling the no-fly zones, and Iraq's letter to the UN last month accepting the return of inspectors but denying having any weapons of mass destruction, a letter Bush said was filled with "protests and falsehoods":
"In the inspections process, the United States will be making one judgment: Has Saddam Hussein changed his behavior of the last 11 years? Has he decided to cooperate willingly and comply completely, or has he not? So far, the signs are not encouraging. A regime that fires upon American and British pilots is not taking the path of compliance."
Bush said it will be up to the U.S. to decide whether Saddam is complying with the inspectors, who begin their sixth day of work today. Bush did not mention the UN Security Council, which technically is supposed to decide on Baghdad's compliance.
If Hussein does not comply, the U.S. president repeated that he will lead a coalition of nations to disarm Baghdad. "America will confront dangers early -- before our options become limited and desperate," he said.
So far, the inspectors say they have found no evidence of banned weapons programs or met with any resistance from Iraqi authorities. But the inspectors did discover yesterday that some equipment was missing from a missile factory.
In his speech, Bush narrowly defined the role of the inspectors, whom he said are not in Iraq to play a game of "hide-and-seek" with Saddam:
"Inspectors do not have the duty or the ability to uncover terrible weapons hidden in a vast country. The responsibility of inspectors is simply to confirm the evidence of voluntary and total disarmament. It is Saddam Hussein who has the responsibility to provide that evidence."
Britain, America's staunchest ally on Iraq, exerted further pressure on Iraq yesterday when it released a report alleging Saddam uses torture, rape, and mass executions to achieve his aims.
Baghdad, meanwhile, protested to the UN after British and U.S. warplanes patrolling the no-fly zones struck Iraqi air defense targets yesterday. Baghdad said the raid killed four civilians.
Russia also criticized the raid, saying military action only complicates the work of the inspectors.
Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice -- Bush's national security adviser -- met yesterday in New York with Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector. And in a speech to military personnel in Denver, Colorado, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said the U.S. war on terror will not be won until Iraq is completely and verifiably deprived of weapons of mass destruction.
Iraq accuses Bush of seeking any pretext for launching a war to achieve "regime change" in Baghdad.
Raymond Tanter is a professor at the University of Michigan and a former member of U.S. President Ronald Reagan's National Security Council. Although Iraq has said it has no weapons of mass destruction, Tanter says he expects Saddam will offer a more complicated picture in his list to the UN.
Tanter, who believes the U.S. will go to war with Iraq early next year, says Saddam is likely to put together a large list of all kinds of places -- such as college chemistry labs -- that could possibly have "dual use" technologies banned by the UN. Such technologies can be used for both civilian and military purposes.
The point, Tanter says, would be to avoid provoking the U.S. with a list that declares nothing, while at the same time drawing out the inspections for as long as possible -- precisely what Bush says he will not tolerate: "Saddam is playing for time, and President Bush is playing as if he's in a two-minute drill in an American football game in the fourth [last] quarter, and Saddam is in a Middle East soccer game in which he's trying to keep the other side from getting the ball but not to score."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday that Bush is approaching the 8 December deadline with a "dose of skepticism."
But Fleischer said the deadline should not be seen in the same context as 15 January 1991 -- the date by which Saddam had to choose between pulling his invasion forces out of Kuwait or else face war. He chose war.