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Iraq: World Political Divides Deepen After Blix's Report To UN

  • Jeffrey Donovan

Reactions to chief United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix's report yesterday to the Security Council -- which criticized Iraq for not fully cooperating with the inspectors -- were predictable. Washington and London are piling further pressure on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to disarm or face military action, while much of the rest of the world is urging more time for the inspectors to do their job.

Washington, 28 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The United States and Britain are turning up the pressure on Iraq following a report to the United Nations by weapons monitors, but the rest of the world says that inspections must be given more time.

In a key report assessing 60 days of inspection work in Iraq, chief UN arms inspector Hans Blix told the Security Council yesterday that Baghdad is not cooperating sufficiently with the inspectors and has failed to account for all its long-range missiles, biological and chemical weapons.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told a briefing that while U.S. President George W. Bush still hopes to avoid war with Iraq, Blix's report proved that Iraq is simply deceiving the inspectors:

"It's clear from today's important reporting date that Iraq has failed to comply, that Iraq continues to have weapons of mass destruction that they have not accounted for, and that Iraq's failure to comply has led to a situation where the inspectors are getting the run-around." Fleischer was echoed by Foreign Minister Jack Straw of Britain, which is America's staunchest ally on Iraq and recently deployed thousands of troops to the Persian Gulf region.

"There is clear evidence now that he [Saddam Hussein] has made this a charade of an inspection, cooperating on process but not on substance," Straw said.

In keeping with ongoing divisions on the Iraq issue, France, Germany, and Russia all said the report by Blix and Muhammad el-Baradei -- head of the International Atomic Energy Agency -- underscored the importance of the inspections and the need to give them more time.

In his report, el-Baradei also told the Security Council that his inspectors need several more months to know if Iraq has revived its nuclear arms program.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told British Prime Minister Tony Blair by telephone that the inspectors should be allowed to continue their work in Iraq. A similar message was conveyed by Turkey -- a key U.S. ally and vital to any war on Iraq -- as well as Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany and French President Jacques Chirac.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer had this to say: "The inspectors are the most important instrument on the ground to control the danger and remove the danger, [and they need] the time to be able to proceed with their work and to complete it."

U.S. Democrats have also raised their voice against any rash move toward military action. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said yesterday that the White House is losing credibility at home and abroad by emitting "confused signals."

But the Bush administration, which has begun deploying troops to the Gulf region that analysts say could number 150,000 by the end of next moth, signaled clearly yesterday that it is unlikely to wait much longer for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to begin cooperating with the inspectors.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Resolution 1441, passed unanimously by the Security Council last November, clearly called for "serious consequences" in the event of Iraqi noncompliance. He said the international community should be prepared to deliver those consequences, which are widely understood as military action.

"The issue is not how much more time the inspectors need to search in the dark. It is how much more time Iraq should be given to turn on the lights and to come clean," Powell said. "And the answer is, not much more time. Iraq's time for choosing peaceful disarmament is fast coming to an end."

Bush has said that if the Security Council fails to back military action to enforce Resolution 1441, Washington will be prepared to lead its own "coalition of the willing" to disarm Iraq. Bush is expected to further make his case for action when he delivers his yearly State of the Union address tonight.

In a show of his ongoing consultations with possible war allies, Bush spokes by phone yesterday with Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, which is cited along with Britain, Italy, and some Eastern European countries as likely to join a "coalition of the willing."

Although the U.S. is amassing military equipment and personnel in the Gulf region, Powell said Washington will weigh all its options and make a final decision only after consulting with its allies and the Security Council in further talks this week.

A key meeting is set to take place on 31 January when Bush hosts Blair for talks at Camp David outside Washington. Nancy Soderberg, a vice president of the International Crisis Group and a former U.S. diplomat at the UN, had this to say to RFE/RL's Iraqi Service at the UN: "The best guess, and at this point's it's a guess, is that the council will agree to keep the inspectors there until the end of February and then have this debate all over again. And I think the key date coming up is January 31 with Tony Blair and Bush meeting at Camp David."

Another key U.S. ally, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, will also be in Washington this week for talks on Iraq.

One issue likely to be on the agenda is whether to seek a second Security Council resolution to authorize war. U.S. officials have said they do not feel they need another resolution, arguing 1441 and other previous resolutions already provide the legal basis for military action against Iraq.

But Washington has not ruled out the possibility it could seek such a resolution. The U.S. State Department is reportedly working on a draft of a second resolution, and diplomats say Britain has drafted such a document as well.

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