Allies cautious on further use of force against Iraq

July 29, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- President Bush, warning that the use of force is still a "viable option," said yesterday that Iraq will be making an "enormous mistake" if it does not disclose all its nuclear capabilities to United Nations inspectors.

But confirming that some U.S. allies are reluctant to start the Persian Gulf war again, Mr. Bush said that he had set no new deadline for Iraq to comply with a United Nations cease-fire requirement obligating it to disclose all information about its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.

"We are talking to our other friends and allies about this," Mr. Bush told reporters before playing golf. "I don't really have a deadline in mind."

A U.N. deadline by which Iraq was to disclose its nuclear capabilities passed Thursday, and administration officials have said that air strikes against suspected nuclear and chemical weapons sites are one option open to the United States.

But more strong signals emerged from several key allies yesterday that military action in the near future to enforce the demand would not be acceptable to them.

Egypt is understood to have already conveyed its strong reservations about new air strikes to Washington.

And in Turkey yesterday, Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz told reporters that his government would not allow allied aircraft to use Turkish bases for strikes against Iraqi facilities as they did during the Persian Gulf war. "I rule it out," he said.

In a sign of further discord, a Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman also warned yesterday that the use of force against Iraq might have "negative consequences . . . larger than maybe the intended goal of those actions."

If "we resort to military force, I think it would not be met with equally unanimous approval by the international community as was the case during the Iraq aggression against Kuwait," Foreign Ministry spokesman Vitaly Churkin said in an interview on Cable News Network's "Newsmaker Sunday."

One main reason for this concern is the fear that another attack on Iraq now would jeopardize the delicate efforts under way to convene a Middle East peace conference just when those efforts appear to be on the verge of succeeding, U.S. and Arab officials confirmed.

"It's a question of maybe taking a little bit more time to see how things develop," one administration source said. "A lot of people just don't want to see these things undone."

Mr. Bush said that "everybody would prefer not to use force" but that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's continued refusal to give U.N. inspection teams access to key facilities might leave the allies with no other choice. "That option [using force] remains very viable," the president said.

A new team of U.N. inspectors arrived in Iraq over the weekend to inspect the site of a secret uranium enrichment program at Tuwaitha, southeast of Baghdad.

Yesterday, Iraq presented U.N. inspectors with new information on its nuclear material.

Full details about the latest disclosures were not immediately released by officials investigating the remains of Iraq's nuclear program.

"Some of the items were large quantities, ranging from wastes, nuclear wastes, at one end of the spectrum, to very small amounts of very specialized material," David Kay, chief inspector of an 18-member inspection team, said in Baghdad.

The team was to visit other sites today, and Mr. Bush said he hopes that Iraq will comply with all of its requests.

But he added that the United States has "very good evidence" that "Saddam continues to hide and conceal" key aspects of Iraq's nuclear capabilities.

"Regrettably, there is a strong feeling that he is not coming totally clean," Mr. Bush said. "And therein he's making an enormous mistake."

The ascendancy, even if only temporarily, of a moderate Arab coalition brought together by the gulf war helped to pave the way for a Mideast peace conference after years of diplomatic frustration. But even solidly pro-American countries like Egypt do not feel able to side with the United States against Iraq without popular dissent at home.

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