By Jeffrey Donovan/Andrew F. Tully
The United States and Britain, showing a united front for action against Iraq despite opposition from several key countries, are urging the United Nations to enforce its demands that Saddam Hussein disarm or else risk losing credibility. Top U.S. officials, meanwhile, are keeping up their focused campaign to maintain pressure on Baghdad ahead of a possible war. RFE/RL correspondents Jeffrey Donovan and Andrew F. Tully report from Washington.
Washington, 24 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Shrugging off opposition to war with Iraq from France, Germany, China and Russia, the United States says it already has a "coalition of the willing" and the legal basis to attack Baghdad.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer -- speaking yesterday after France came out against a war, followed by opposition from Beijing, Berlin and Moscow --said those nations can sit "on the sideline" if they desire.
Fleischer added that Washington would still be able to field a strong coalition against Iraq should war be necessary. He said that coalition would no doubt involve top ally Britain, and would likely include Italy, Spain and several Eastern European nations, as well.
Addressing reporters in Washington yesterday alongside British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had this to say:
"Oh, I don't think we'll have to worry about going it alone [against Iraq]. I think that the case is clear. I think that as we move forward, if it can't be solved peacefully, and if the UN should fail to act -- and I hope that is not the case -- then the United States reserves the right to do what it thinks is appropriate to defend its interests."
U.S. officials have long argued that the legal basis to attack Baghdad already exists in Iraq's consistent violations of 12 years of UN resolutions demanding its disarmament.
That position is disputed by France, Russia and China -- a majority of the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council. The other two are Britain and the United States.
But Powell and Straw said the world body risks losing its credibility and authority if it fails to enforce its own resolutions on Iraq. Powell:
"For the international community now to say 'nevermind,' or walk away from this problem or ignore it or allow it to be strung out indefinitely with no end, I think would be a defeat for the international community and a serious defeat for the United Nations process."
Powell's comments were part of a tightly focused campaign being mounted by the Bush administration to rally support for increased pressure -- and perhaps war -- against Iraq.
U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz -- speaking yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations, a private policy research center -- said it is not the job of inspectors to find weapons as Saddam tries to hide them:
"It is quite unreasonable to expect a few hundred inspectors to search every potential hiding place in a country the size of France, even if nothing were being moved. And, of course, there is every reason to believe that things are being moved constantly -- and hidden."
Wolfowitz recalled that in 1989, South Africa began the long process of disarming itself, and that after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine and Kazakhstan did the same:
"Each of these cases was different, but the end result was the same: The countries disarmed while disclosing their programs fully and voluntarily. In each case, high-level political commitment to disarmament was accompanied by the active participation of national institutions to carry out that process."
Responding to a question about why Washington does not disclose what it says is concrete evidence that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction, Wolfowitz said that to divulge such information could endanger the lives of spies working against Saddam. And he added that the onus is on Iraq to prove it has no weapons of mass destruction:
"I must say I sort of find it astonishing that the issue is whether you can trust the U.S. government. The real issue is, can you trust Saddam Hussein? And it seems to me the record is absolutely clear that you can't. And we're going to have to have some very powerful evidence that h-e has changed and that we can trust him, because otherwise we are trusting our security in the hands of a man who makes ricin, who makes anthrax, who makes botulism toxin, who makes aflatoxin, and who has no compunctions whatsoever about consorting with terrorists."
UN Resolution 1441, passed unanimously by the 15-member UN Security Council last November, specifically states that Iraq faces "serious consequences" if it does not fully comply with UN weapons inspectors currently in the country.
U.S. Secretary of State Powell expressed optimism yesterday that despite the diplomatic jockeying of recent days, the Security Council can reach a common approach on Iraq following Monday's report to the Council by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix:
"I think France and Germany do understand that the obligation is on Iraq, and if there is any confusion about that, I am sure we will clear it up in the days ahead in our conversations with them."
Powell said the U.S. will consider what steps to next take on Iraq only after Blix presents his report. That report will assess 60 days of searches in Iraq and is expected to provide the basis for any Security Council action. He said it is still "an open question" whether Washington will seek a new UN resolution authorizing force against Iraq.
This week, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin hinted at a possible veto of any new Security Council resolution. And French President Jacques Chirac said on Wednesday that more time is needed for the inspectors to continue their work.
De Villepin appeared to slightly soften his stance yesterday, saying he expects Blix's report to spark a fair debate in the Security Council:
"I think everybody is expressing his own position, his own vision of the world, and you have to do it with real honesty and respect. I think we will have the opportunity with our American friends to consult over the next few days during the session of the Security Council meeting on January 27th when the [United Nations] inspectors will present their report."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has also said that Germany, a rotating member of the Security Council, will not support any new resolution