TAIF, Saudi Arabia -- The United States has warned Iraq not to carry out suspected plans to quell internal uprisings with chemical weapons, Secretary of State James A. Baker III confirmed yesterday.
"We have reason to believe they might be planning such activity and we thought it important to let them know how we viewed it," Mr. Baker said.
U.S. intelligence has picked up indications that Iraq plans to use chemical weapons against opposition forces, a U.S. official here LTC said, confirming a New York Times report.
A senior administration official said Thomas Pickering, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, notified his Iraqi counterpart that the United States was aware of the plans.
His "to-the-point" message warned Iraq that there would be grave consequences if chemical arms were used, the official indicated.
Mr. Baker, responding to questions after a meeting here with the emir of Kuwait, refused to say what the United States would do if Iraq carried out the reported plans.
The government headed by Saddam Hussein used chemicals weapons to quell a Kurdish uprising and also against Iranian forces, but did not use them during the Persian Gulf war.
The warning marks a shift in policy for the Bush administration, which since the war has told other countries not to meddle in Iraq's internal affairs and has refrained from involving American forces still stationed in Iraq in the country's post-war turmoil.
While hoping Saddam Hussein will be toppled, U.S. officials have said that decision is up to the Iraqi people themselves.
Were the United States to take action, it could possibly cite as its authority the same U.N. resolution that authorized war against Iraq. One provision of the resolution calls broadly for the restoration of international peace and security in the area.