U.S. hopes to corner reluctant allies into backing war on Iraq

France and Germany will be pressed to admit Baghdad is not disarming

New U.N. resolution weighed

January 23, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Bush administration officials said yesterday that next week they would confront France, Germany and other skeptics of military action against Iraq by requiring them to agree publicly that Iraq had defied the Security Council.

The officials, expressing exasperation with the refusal of longtime allies to back the United States, said they were vigorously debating whether to seek a second U.N. resolution authorizing force against Iraq.

At the very least, they said, they will demand that the nations opposed to the U.S. position acknowledge that Iraq has not complied with resolutions requiring it to disclose its weapons of mass destruction and allow them to be dismantled.

Administration officials said their strategy was based on the belief that there might never be a "smoking gun" proving Iraq's possession of illegal weapons.

They acknowledged that the case must be made in a negative fashion: that Iraq has failed to disprove the contentions of the United States and others about its weapons of mass destruction. The administration asserts, without offering evidence, that Iraq has thwarted inspectors by hiding the weapons.

Confronted yesterday by recent polls indicating that Americans have begun having second thoughts about supporting a war, President Bush condemned Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Labeling him "a dangerous, dangerous man with dangerous, dangerous weapons," the president said in St. Louis that "if Saddam Hussein will not disarm, the United States of America and friends of freedom will disarm Saddam Hussein."

Bush described Iraq's declaration of its weapons program as "12,000 pages of deceit and deception" and appeared to deride the effectiveness of the U.N. inspection program by referring to "so-called inspectors," a phrase repeated by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Bush also made an unusually direct appeal to the Iraqi military. "There will be serious consequences for any Iraqi general or soldier who were to use weapons of mass destruction on our troops," he said. "When Iraq is liberated, you will be treated, tried and prosecuted as a war criminal."

The Pentagon, meanwhile, announced that more than 20,000 members of the National Guard and Reserve had reported for active duty this week, bringing to nearly 79,000 the number of National Guard members and Reservists called to active duty for possible service in the Persian Gulf or for protection at home. A total U.S. military force of 150,000 is expected in the region by mid-February.

Some administration officials expressed the belief that France and other reluctant allies, seeing American military action as inevitable, would be won over in the end - perhaps out of concern that their businesses might lose any role in exploiting Iraq's oil resources.

Others said the French might ease their resistance if the United States allowed the inspectors a few more weeks.

But some were skeptical, saying that the French ought to be taken at their word and that Bush should not bother to seek a second resolution authorizing the use of force.

In another sign of their irritation with longtime allies, aides to Bush said they were intensifying efforts to line up support elsewhere in Europe.

If anything, U.S. officials said, the recent French and German appeal for American patience has backfired - emboldening the hawks in the administration and even spurring Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to tell aides that he would accept military action against Iraq without approval from the Security Council. Powell had resisted that position for months.

Sounding tougher yesterday than he has previously, Powell said on the PBS program The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer that the question was whether to allow Iraq "a few more weeks, a few more months" to comply when it was clear already that it would never do so.

"Frankly," he said, "there are some nations in the world who would like simply to turn away from this problem, pretend it isn't there."

Going further, Rumsfeld dismissed the German and French roles in a newly expanded NATO, which has been asked to provide indirect assistance for an Iraqi invasion.

"You're thinking of Europe as Germany and France," Rumsfeld told foreign journalists at the State Department. "I don't. I think that's old Europe." He added: "You look at vast numbers of other countries in Europe. They're not with France and Germany on this. They're with the United States."

The administration is now planning to focus on the report that the U.N. weapons inspections chief, Hans Blix, is to issue Monday - in the hope that it offers extensive details on Iraq's noncompliance. This could result in a fresh demand that Baghdad come clean and dismantle its weapons.

Noting yesterday that French officials have in the past stated publicly that Iraq has these weapons and has failed to comply with the resolutions, officials said the Bush administration thinks that France and Germany can somehow be embarrassed next week into repeating that acknowledgment.

"Our goal is to rub their nose in reality, and then proceed to discuss what we do about it," an official said, referring to France. "We want to create a situation where they have to respond to the obvious facts and then explain why they don't want to act on them."

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this article.

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