Bush Warns UN to Act on Iraq Now or Face Irrelevance


But Russia, China and France Continue to Oppose US and UK

By Brian Knowlton

International Herald Tribune
October 4, 2002

With congressional authorization nearing for the use of force against Iraq, President George W. Bush returned his attention to the United Nations, demanding that it act quickly or makes itself "irrelevant." But there was no sign that Russian, Chinese and French opposition to the US-British approach was weakening. That left the UN Security Council sharply divided, and its role in the matter uncertain.

The United States and Britain want UN arms inspectors to return to Iraq only once the Security Council has given them new authority to conduct their work more fully and intrusively. A US official said that the United States would make this "perfectly clear" in Security Council talks Thursday with Hans Blix, the chief UN arms inspector.

And Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain said that a UN-Iraqi agreement Tuesday that opens most of Iraq to inspections but retains curbs on inspection of eight so-called presidential sites was inadequate and that a tough new resolution was therefore "absolutely essential." "It is no good allowing inspectors access to 99 percent of Iraq, if the weapons of mass destruction are actually located and stored and worked on in the remaining 1 percent," he said at a Labour Party conference in Blackpool, England.

But Russia, China and France say the inspectors have the authority they need and should return expeditiously. Blix has said they can be ready to return as early as Oct. 15.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday that negotiations at the United Nations were "intricate" but that he was optimistic that an acceptable outcome would be reached. "We must find a way forward, if the Security Council will retain its relevance," he said.

The US administration has said that it has the legal authority to use force to ensure Iraqi disarmament, with or without UN approval. "The UN must know that the will of this country is strong," Bush said.

He spoke after the White House reached agreement with leaders of both parties in the House of Representatives on a draft resolution to authorize US force against Iraq even without UN approval. While some Democratic leaders of the Senate criticized their House counterparts for not doing more to slow what they see as a rush to war, passage in that chamber is also expected.

Russia, in its first response to a draft US resolution at the United Nations, said that document would needlessly delay the return of UN weapons inspectors. The Russian deputy foreign minister, Alexander Saltanov, said that close study of the draft had only strengthened Moscow's support for "the soonest resumption of inspection activities in Iraq," according to the Interfax news agency. The inspectors retained the authority under earlier UN resolutions to do their work, he said. That appeared to be a retreat from a comment Wednesday by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who said that Moscow would consider whether a new resolution was necessary "for the efficient work of the inspectors." On Thursday he said he favored the inspectors' quick return.

The White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, played down Russia's reaction. He said that Bush remained "optimistic" that the United States could persuade other Security Council members to adopt a resolution giving inspectors a more muscular role and authorizing force if Iraq stood in their way. But Fleischer acknowledged that there were "a lot of loose ends" before the Security Council. He repeated the administration warning, voiced last month by Bush in a speech to the world body that the United Nations must act soon and with determination or "become irrelevant." UN action, he said, was "imperative."

France insisted again Thursday that it opposed any threat of military action being included in a first new UN resolution on a return of arms inspectors, preferring a second resolution only if Iraq remained defiant. "Using force can only be the last resort," Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told members of the French Senate, Reuters reported from Paris. President Jacques Chirac had joined Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany late Wednesday in expressing opposition to any resolution providing for automatic use of force against a noncompliant Iraq.

And China said that the United Nations should press for the arms inspectors' quick return and a political solution, not for military action. "The top priority at this moment," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "is to let UN weapon inspectors return to Iraq as soon as possible." Beijing thus appeared likely to support the Paris call to delay any UN threat of military action until the arms inspectors have completed their work or encountered Iraqi hurdles in doing so.

In Washington, Bush appeared likely to receive the congressional authority he seeks by next week, despite continuing reservations among some Democrats and a few Republicans. Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Democratic leader in that chamber, said that the Senate remained divided, with critics wanting the language of a resolution tied to greater reliance on a UN role and a narrowing of Bush's authority to act without consultation. But Daschle added, "At the end of the day, we're going to be able to develop a broad bipartisan consensus." Several Senate Democrats said that at this point the final measure was unlikely to differ significantly from what the president wanted. .

Blix will meet with US officials at the State Department on Friday to discuss terms of new inspections in Iraq. Fleischer said that failure of the United Nations to authorize tough action did not mean the United States would be acting unilaterally.

Britain has supported the Bush approach, for the most part, and Romania and Bulgaria, both seeking admission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, have offered use of their facilities in an eventual attack. Other countries, including Qatar in the Gulf, are expected to provide support. "The days of anybody saying the United States would do anything unilateral are over," Fleischer said.

Some Democrats complained that the House-negotiated language retained a number of grounds for a preemptive strike on Iraq, not limiting it to threats posed by weapons of mass destruction. They also said that it did not put a strong enough requirement on exhausting diplomatic measures at the United Nations before war, and that it skirted issues of how Iraq would be rebuilt after a possible conflict.

But one of the few Republican senators to call for a closer examination of White House draft language, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, said on CNN that the administration had "moved a long way" to clarify and resolve such concerns. "The resolution we're talking about today is vastly different from the first resolution the White House sent up," he said.

In Iraq, US and British warplanes patrolling the southern flight-exclusion zone Thursday attacked an Iraqi military air defense center in Tallil, southeast of Baghdad, the US military said, according to a Reuters report from Washington. It said the strike was in response to attempts to shoot down the warplanes with both anti-aircraft missiles and artillery.

Meantime, allied forces dropped thousands of leaflets over southern Iraq Thursday, warning Saddam Hussein's troops against firing on British and US planes, the first known direct warning to Iraq's military rank and file since the Bush administration launched its campaign to topple Saddam.

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