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Iraq: Rice Says U.S. Rejects Plan To Give Inspectors More Time

A day after France and Germany proposed giving more time for United Nations weapons inspectors to find suspected Iraqi weapons programs, U.S. President George W. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, says that plan would be unworkable. In an interview at the White House with the U.S.-funded Voice of America radio station, Rice also held out little hope that the Iraq crisis could be resolved peacefully.

Washington, 6 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush's national security adviser says the United States rejects a proposal by France and Germany to allow more time for weapons inspections in Iraq because it would play into the hands of Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein.

Condoleezza Rice said in an interview yesterday with the U.S.-funded Voice of America radio station that Saddam has used delaying tactics for the past 12 years to avoid ridding Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. She said that to allow inspections to continue for as long as four more months, as France and Germany propose, would simply be to play Saddam's "game," as she put it.

Rice said she thinks Saddam so far is winning the game because he has held off disarmament and created deep divisions within the UN Security Council over how to enforce 17 of its resolutions that have demanded disarmament since 1991. She said Iraq "took tremendous heart" about the outcome of a UN Security Council meeting on 21 February at which several members opposed the U.S.'s Iraq policy.

"I have to say that offering more time at this point really only plays into Saddam's hands. I won't question anyone's motives. I think everybody is trying to do this according to their own views of the situation. But if you just look at what Saddam Hussein and his regime said after the Friday [21 February] meeting in the Security Council, they took tremendous heart in a Security Council meeting in which there seemed to be more focus on avoiding tough decisions than on taking tough decisions," Rice said.

Bush has said repeatedly the United States would act without UN support to disarm Iraq by force, if necessary. But he and his senior cabinet officials also have repeatedly said that a credible threat of war posed by a united Security Council is the best way to avoid war. They argue that if Saddam feels that the world is united against him, and is prepared to use military force to disarm him, he may capitulate peacefully.

Rice said she would welcome a peaceful solution, but said Iraq's attitude toward disarmament so far indicates this is not likely. "We certainly always hope that the Iraqis will somehow decide that they are finally going to -- after 12 years -- live up to their disarmament obligations. It wouldn't be hard. We know what it looks like when a country wants to disarm. It looks like what South Africa did: to invite the international community in, not to try to hunt and peck and find things, but to actually expose completely the entire range of weapons systems and people and programs -- research programs -- so that the world can see that disarmament is actually taking place. But I would have to say that that would mean a Saddam Hussein who had tremendously changed his spots," she said.

Last September, Bush told the United Nations that it would face the scorn of history if it did not disarm Saddam. He said -- and has repeated many times since then -- that the UN risks becoming irrelevant if it does not enforce its own resolutions.

Yesterday, Rice was asked if the United States was prepared to quit the United Nations if it decides that the Security Council will have become irrelevant by voting against a new resolution -- proposed by the United States, Britain, and Spain -- that could clear the way for military action against Iraq.

She replied that the United Nations as a whole is an admirable institution that has accomplished many good things. "We believe in the United Nations, but what will lose its relevance is the Security Council. What will be shown to be more like the League of Nations than the United Nations is the Security Council. It's the enforcement mechanism that gives the international community a way to stand up to the horrible dictators, to those who are proliferating weapons of mass destruction, to those who are threatening peace and security."

Rice also praised the former communist countries of Europe that have publicly supported the U.S. on Iraq. She cited the "Vilnius 10" group, which recently declared that they believe Iraq is in material breach of UN disarmament resolutions. They are Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. She said these countries' support is extremely important, given their collective history over the past half-century.

"One of the very interesting things has been to see how the countries that were denied freedom for so long -- the countries of Eastern Europe, like Poland and Hungary or the Baltic States or Bulgaria or Romania, all of those countries, that for so long were denied freedom -- they're speaking up now for freedom. They are saying that when tyranny is ignored, tyranny wins. And they have the histories and the scars to prove that that is the case. We think that those voices need to be heard," Rice said.

Rice also spoke of North Korea and its recent rejection of weapons controls, as well as several military provocations, including the test firing of a missile just hours before yesterday's inauguration of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun. She said the United States is carefully working multilaterally -- particularly with China and Russia -- to ensure that the Korean peninsula remains free of nuclear weapons.

She also spoke of Iran, the third member -- along with Iraq and North Korea -- of what Bush calls the "axis of evil." She was asked if Iran may lose its position in that axis because it now appears prepared to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on nuclear inspections. Rice replied that such cooperation alone is not enough. "The president identified a class of states, states that were closed, that were pursuing weapons of mass destruction, that support terrorism around the world. And Iran, unfortunately, still makes the grade on all of those," she said.

Rice said she hopes the IAEA inspections will be thorough, and that Iranian officials will be cooperative. But she added that the U.S regards Iran as a secretive society, and therefore it may try to hide prohibited nuclear-weapons programs

In particular, Rice said, Iran has to stop its support of terrorist organizations. The U.S. State Department has accused the Tehran government of supporting groups like Hezbollah, which it has named on a list of terrorist organizations.

The Voice of America is an international multimedia broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government. It's regarded as the international broadcast voice of the United States.