Yesterday, the White House blasted Iraq's weapons declaration as riddled with flaws. Today, Secretary of State Colin Powell is set to begin making the U.S. case to the international community that Iraq is, in fact, already in violation of United Nations demands that it disarm.
Washington, 19 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The White House, citing problems and omissions in Iraq's weapons declaration, has begun to build its case against Baghdad but appears confident it can achieve its goals through the United Nations.
In the White House's strongest public statement to date on the latest Iraqi arms declaration, spokesman Ari Fleischer told a briefing yesterday that U.S. President George W. Bush has found serious flaws in the document, which Iraq delivered by demand to the UN on 7 December. "The president is concerned about Iraq's failure to list information in this document. The president is concerned with omissions in this document, and the president is concerned with problems in this document," Bush said.
Fleischer said the declaration was Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's "last chance" to be honest with the world about his weapons programs.
However, Fleischer signaled that Bush will not declare the dossier's flaws as immediate cause for war. Instead, he stressed that the United States will be "deliberative" on the issue and continue to study the document with the UN Security Council to find the right course of action: "I assure you, this president [Bush] does not bluff. When he said that Saddam Hussein must disarm, that he wants Saddam Hussein to disarm so peace can be preserved, and that Saddam Hussein will be disarmed, it's not a bluff. He hopes Saddam Hussein will do it, still," Fleischer said.
Analysts say the United States is likely to use its negative assessment of Iraq's arms declaration to put more public pressure on UN weapons inspectors and on the Security Council. Ted Galen Carpenter of Washington's Cato Institute think tank summed up American strategy this way: "I think their strategy is to slowly build international support for the U.S. case that Iraq is already in material breach of the UN resolutions; that the report submitted by Iraq is totally inadequate, had numerous omissions; and that Iraq is therefore not cooperating fully with the inspections regime."
A senior U.S. official told the Associated Press yesterday that Bush will begin to build his public case against Iraq with a speech tomorrow that will condemn Hussein for failing to disclose all information about his weapons-of-mass-destruction programs, as required under UN Security Council Resolution 1441. That resolution was unanimously adopted by the Security Council on 8 November and warns of "serious consequences" if Iraq does not make a full and complete disclosure of its weapons programs.
Today in New York, chief UN arms inspector Hans Blix is due to present the Security Council with his judgment of Iraq's 12,000-page weapons dossier.
After Blix's address, Secretary of State Colin Powell and John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, will give their assessments of Iraq's report.
U.S. officials are saying privately that, for now, they will refrain from calling Iraq in "material breach" of Resolution 1441, which if true would legally justify the use of force.
The officials say they want inspectors to interrogate Iraqi scientists outside the country and are confident that such action would yield compromising data or resistance from Hussein, either of which could also justify military action.
Speaking yesterday after talks with Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller of Denmark, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, Powell said the United States will work to solve its problems with Baghdad through the UN. "Our analysis of the Iraqi declaration to this point -- almost two weeks into the process this weekend -- shows problems with the declaration, declaration gaps, omissions, and all of this is troublesome. In my conversations with other permanent members of the Security Council, my sense is that they also see deficiencies in the declaration," Powell said.
Bush has previously threatened unilateral military action if Iraq does not comply with the UN and if the world body fails to enforce its rulings.
Analysts say the administration's latest language indicates that it is confident it already has or is close to having what it considers a clear basis for using military action as stipulated in Resolution 1441.
Raymond Tanter was on former U.S. President Ronald Reagan's National Security Council and is a professor at the University of Michigan. Tanter told RFE/RL that he believes Washington will not seek another UN resolution to go to war -- as some have called for, including Britain -- but will slowly build its case for war on a pattern of Iraqi deceptions.
In the end, he said, Bush will have achieved with international consensus what he has threatened all along: to take on Iraq with a "coalition of the willing." "I cannot imagine anyone being neutral once the shooting starts. Everyone will make a contribution, for different reasons. The Russians will make a contribution in order to beat up on the Chechens later. The French will make a contribution in order to get some oil contracts with a post-Saddam regime. So will the Russians. The Chinese will make a resolution because of Kmart and Wal-Mart [large U.S. stores that sell a lot of Chinese-made goods]," Tanter said.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain, the United States' strongest ally on Iraq, yesterday called Baghdad's arms report, which says the country has no weapons of mass destruction, an "obvious falsehood."
Straw said the document fails to account for weapons of mass destruction, including chemical arms, that were listed in the final report of the inspectors who left Iraq in late 1998. He also said he prays that war will not be necessary but that if it is, Britain would prefer that military action be backed by a new UN resolution.
However, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking to parliament yesterday, suggested that if Iraq is found to have violated the latest UN resolution, war could follow. "If we are to use the UN route -- if there is a breach by Saddam -- then we should agree to take action. Now, that surely must be right," Blair said.
U.S. officials also say Hussein's failure to explain what happened to his chemical- and biological-weapons programs after 1998 are among their problems with the declaration. They also do not accept Hussein's denial that he has any nuclear-arms program.
Fleischer yesterday suggested the United States may be ready to offer UN weapons inspectors fresh intelligence in a bid to better prove their point.