Iraq expels U.S. arms inspectors United Nations pulls out other 72 members of its monitoring team

Clinton to pursue matter

U.S. leader sees act as a challenge to the global community

November 14, 1997|By Mark Matthews and Carl M. Cannon | Mark Matthews and Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Iraq expelled U.S. weapons inspectors yesterday, causing the United Nations to halt its search for Saddam Hussein's dangerous weapons and America's envoy to the United Nations to warn of "grave consequences" if Iraq's defiance continues.

As tensions mounted, President Clinton considered ways to deal with Hussein's defiance and made the case for acting forcefully against the Iraqi president.

"Iraq's announcement this morning to expel the Americans from the inspection team is clearly unacceptable and a challenge to the international community," Clinton said. "It is important to the safety of the world that they continue their work. I intend to pursue this matter in a very determined way.

"Let me remind you all again -- I will say this every time I discuss this issue -- these inspectors, in the last six years, have uncovered more weapons of mass destruction potential and destroyed it than was destroyed in the entire gulf war," he said.

Iraq expelled the six Americans a day after the U.N. Security Council condemned Baghdad for interfering with the weapons inspection program and imposed a travel ban against senior Iraqi officials.

Yesterday's Iraqi action sent U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson back to the Security Council in search of a stronger condemnation. And it prompted Richard Butler, the Australian who heads the U.N. inspection program, to order the removal of the 72 remaining inspectors.

U.S. arms inspectors expelled from Iraq arrived in Jordan before daybreak today after an overland trip through the desert, the Associated Press reported.

At the White House, officials steadfastly refused to spell out the steps they are considering. Clinton has authorized military actions against Iraq several times since becoming president.

In the first instance, in June 1993, Clinton ordered the firing of two dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles into Hussein's Baghdad intelligence headquarters in retaliation for an Iraqi plot to assassinate former President George Bush.

Possible options

Possible military options now apparently range from missile attacks to sustained bombing. Middle East experts said they doubted that steps of this nature would remove Hussein from power. But neither U.S. officials nor America's allies have indicated a willingness to initiate the kind of offensive that might achieve that goal, such as the air-and-ground assault launched nearly seven years ago after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Inside the administration, public comments over the latest episode have been relatively circumspect.

"We're not talking attack," Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said. "We're talking diplomacy."

The diplomatic challenge is formidable. Where once the United States led a large, unified coalition in battle against Iraq, a number of its former partners, including France, Russia and Egypt, now publicly oppose the use of force. U.S. diplomats have been unable to unite the Security Council behind more than the condemnation of Iraq and the travel ban.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and national security adviser Samuel R. Berger have spoken with their counterparts ++ overseas. But Clinton himself has not yet engaged in the kind of intense personal consultation with other world leaders required to build a consensus on Iraq.

Laying the diplomatic groundwork is all the more important if Clinton decides that heavy military action is needed, several analysts said.

Advantage to waiting

There is an advantage to waiting, notes Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Historically, Saddam Hussein tends to push a crisis too far," Cordesman said. "You are better off waiting for him to overreact and give you a reason to use force."

In his regular briefing yesterday, Clinton's spokesman, Mike McCurry, carefully avoided any talk of force. And in a studied effort to avoid the appearance of a crisis atmosphere, Clinton spent yesterday afternoon golfing in miserable weather.

Aides conceded privately, though, that the situation in Iraq has become the top item on the president's agenda.

The standoff began Oct. 29, when Iraq objected to the presence of the U.S. members on the teams of U.N. inspectors. Under terms set up after the Persian Gulf war, the inspectors scour Iraq for any evidence that Hussein is stockpiling missiles, substances used for chemical warfare or other weapons of mass destruction.

As the dispute escalated, the Iraqis threatened to shoot down U-2 surveillance planes. One flew safely Monday, and yesterday the U.S. team informed Baghdad that more U-2 flights would take place next week.

Some veterans of confrontations with Iraq, Persian Gulf officials and government analysts argue that limited force won't be enough to make Hussein back down or to allow the U.N. weapons inspectors to do their job.

'Can't just be pinpricks'

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