U.S. sends more ships to gulf Clinton orders 2nd carrier group to head for Iraq

'We have to steel ourselves'

Diplomatic efforts continue in standoff over arms inspection

November 15, 1997|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writer Carl M. Cannon contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton ordered a second aircraft carrier group to the Persian Gulf yesterday to prepare for possible military action if Iraq continues to block inspections of its chemical and biological weapons programs.

Clinton called his dispatch of the carrier George Washington, with four accompanying ships and 54 planes, "a prudent measure to help assure that we have the forces we need for any contingency."

The White House and Pentagon highlighted the move in an effort to increase psychological pressure on Iraq.

"We have to steel ourselves and be determined," Clinton said.

"This is about the security of the 21st century and the problems everybody is going to have to face dealing with chemical weapons."

The crisis could escalate well before the new forces arrive in the waters near Iraq within a week.

An American U-2 plane is due to make reconnaissance flights over Iraq as early as this weekend, defying Iraqi threats to shoot it down.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen warned yesterday that any Iraqi attack on the U-2 would bring a "prompt" military response from U.S. forces now in the region.

These forces include the Nimitz aircraft carrier group, 200 aircraft and 18,500 troops.

In announcing the high-profile force buildup, White House officials stressed that diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis would continue.

They said they welcomed the possibility that leaders of France or Russia might persuade President Saddam Hussein of Iraq to cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors.

France and Russia are among several key U.S. allies that are decidedly opposed to the use of military force against Iraq at this point.

Barring a sudden provocation by Iraq, there was no indication of imminent military action by the United States.

With Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, in France en route home from the United Nations, Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel R. Berger, said he hoped that Paris and other governments would convey to Hussein "that the only way he can get back into any kind of dialogue with the international community is by coming back -- by allowing those inspectors back."

Behind the conflict

On Thursday, Iraq expelled American members of the U.N. team that is assigned to search for and destroy Iraq's capability to threaten the region with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and the missiles that can carry them.

Iraq accuses the United States of exercising undue influence over the inspection teams and of keeping the once-wealthy oil-producing nation crippled by economic sanctions.

The United Nations will not lift the 7-year-old sanctions until inspectors are satisfied that Iraq's dangerous weaponry has been destroyed and its capacity to rebuild it is under close

watch.

The United States believes Iraq has hidden chemical and biological weapons.

But officials are not sure where the stockpiles are and believe it would be difficult for U.S. warplanes to find and destroy them.

The inspection team's chief, Richard Butler of Australia, insists that Iraq cannot be allowed to dictate the nationality of individuals on his team.

After the expulsion of U.S. members, Butler withdrew most other inspectors to the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain.

U.N. issues warning

Reacting to the Iraqi expulsions, the U.N. Security Council warned in a statement late Thursday night of "serious consequences."

At the White House, Clinton said the U.N. inspection program was essential to keep the region free of the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

"These quiet inspectors have destroyed more weapons of mass destruction potential over the last six years than was destroyed in the entire gulf war," he said.

"Their work is important to the safety of Saddam's neighbors and indeed to people all around the world. It must be allowed to continue."

Meanwhile, Clinton said, "the U-2 missions over Iraq must continue. Without inspectors on the ground, it is more important than ever to monitor events from the air."

At the Pentagon, Cohen told reporters that sending a second aircraft carrier to the gulf increases military flexibility.

It also makes American commanders less reliant on forces based in Saudi Arabia and thus helps skirt a delicate diplomatic problem: Although they loathe Hussein, U.S. allies in the gulf region are reluctant to be seen as helping a U.S. military assault against Iraq.

Preparations for attack

Senior Iraqi officials have said publicly that they expect a military attack from the United States, and Iraqi men, women and children have begun camping in some of Hussein's palaces.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday that he was "shocked" by this use of "human shields."

Cohen told reporters that he hoped Iraqi civilians were not camping near Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, hinting that these sites could be military targets.

Later, however, Cohen said he was referring only to the threat to the civilians from chemical and biological agents, not American bombs.

Diplomatic challenge

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