The United Nations Security Council is divided over whether to back Washington on a tough new resolution on Iraq that could authorize force in the event of noncompliance on the issue of weapons of mass destruction. But the White House is optimistic about securing bipartisan support in Congress to give President George W. Bush authority to attack Baghdad, with or without UN consensus.
Washington, 20 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- In a move that would present a united American front to a skeptical world community, U.S. President George W. Bush has asked Congress for authorization to use all "appropriate" means, including force, to disarm Iraq.
The request -- outlined in a draft titled "To Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq" -- was delivered yesterday to Congress. Leaders of both parties say it is likely to be approved before they adjourn for elections on 5 November.
In the proposal, Bush repeats a message he delivered last week at the United Nations: America will have no choice but to act on its own if the UN Security Council refuses to stand with Washington to force Baghdad to disarm. Senior administration officials say the goal of a regime change in Iraq, while not specifically mentioned, is implicit in the wording of the resolution.
Bush, who accuses Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of harboring weapons of mass destruction and violating 16 Security Council resolutions over the last decade, calls the authorization to use force essential to maintaining international peace. In remarks to reporters at the White House, Bush said: "There are no negotiations to be held with Iraq. They have nothing to negotiate. They are the people who said that they would not have weapons of mass destruction. The negotiations are over."
Under the threat of a U.S. military attack and following Bush's speech to the UN on 12 September, which won broad international support for some kind of action on Iraq, Baghdad made an offer Monday to allow UN arms inspectors to return. Inspectors withdrew in late 1998, citing Hussein's obstruction of their work, ahead of U.S. and British air strikes.
In a speech to the UN yesterday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri denied that Baghdad possessed any weapons of mass destruction and accused Washington of lying in order to control the region's oil resources. "The U.S. administration wants to destroy Iraq in order to control the Middle East oil and consequently control the politics, as well as the oil and economic policies, of the whole world," Sabri said.
The White House called Sabri's speech a "disappointing failure" and a bid to lure the world "down the same dead-end road" of deception. Bush has dismissed Baghdad's offer on inspections as a ruse, saying history proves that Saddam can't be trusted.
Bush's two-page proposal to Congress does not ask for a declaration of war from Congress but does restate U.S. policy to seek a change in Baghdad's government. It also urges the enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions, the defense of U.S. national-security interests against the Iraqi threat, and the return of peace and security in the Persian Gulf region.
Leading opposition Democrats have indicated their support for the proposal. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, a possible 2004 presidential candidate, said he has some questions but likes the resolution. "I don't have a problem with use of force. But when, where, how, and under what circumstances?" Kerry said. "Let's see the full resolution. The [congressional] committees will work on it and then we will see where we are."
The president's proposal cites a "high risk" that Iraq will use weapons of mass destruction in a surprise strike on the U.S. or provide them to terrorists who could attack American targets.
It also says the perpetrators of the attacks of 11 September, the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, are known to have members in Iraq and that the strikes on New York and Washington "underscored the gravity of the threat that Iraq will transfer weapons of mass destruction to international terrorist organizations."
But Iraq's offer on inspections has complicated U.S. efforts to seek a tough new Security Council resolution that would authorize force should Iraq not comply. After the Iraqi offer, key permanent Security Council members Russia and France said they see no need for a new resolution.
In testimony yesterday before the International Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that congressional support for Bush's proposal would allow him to present a united front to the international community.
Powell also acknowledged that he had been somewhat surprised by the timing of Iraq's offer. But he said that Iraq clearly made the offer because it had been under U.S. pressure. For that reason, he said, now is not the time to decrease the pressure and "become giddy," as he said some countries have about Iraq's offer.
He said that, though it is a difficult debate at the Security Council, he is working hard with its 15 members to draft a resolution that will clearly spell out the consequences to Hussein if he does not comply. "We must determine what consequences this time will flow from Iraq's failure to take action. That is what makes this different. This time, unlike any time over the previous 12 years of Iraqi defiance, there must be hard consequences. This time, Iraq must comply with the UN mandate or there will be decisive action to compel compliance," Powell said.
Powell was due to discuss the details of a new resolution over dinner last night in Washington with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Powell, in a reference to Russia and France, told U.S. public radio earlier that countries are "posturing" at the moment on Iraq, but that he expects they will support the U.S. view in the end.
Yesterday, Bush repeated a call he made last week for the UN to act or risk becoming irrelevant. "I think you are going to see a lot of nations, that a lot of nations love freedom. They understand the threat [from Iraq]. They understand that the credibility of the United Nations is at stake. They heard me loud and clear when I said either you can be the United Nations -- a capable body, a body able to keep the peace -- or you can be the League of Nations," Bush said.
The League of Nations, founded in 1920 following World War I, was the predecessor of the United Nations. It lost its effectiveness after numerous states withdrew after it failed to prevent war in Ethiopia in 1935.
Analysts say the U.S. has an uphill battle to speed up any inspection process in order to have the option to pursue military action this winter should inspections fail.
To that end, Washington reportedly wants to change the timetable set forth in a December 1999 UN resolution on inspections drafted by the U.S. and Britain. Resolution 1284 calls for a 60-day period to work out details before starting the inspections, but the U.S. is believed to want language in a new resolution that would scrap that delay.
Today, Bush is scheduled to make his case to Russia's foreign and defense ministers at a meeting with Powell and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Washington.