`Time is running out,' U.S. warns Iraq

Europeans seek to reduce tension between America and France and Germany

January 25, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - The White House warned Iraq yesterday that "time is running out," while European leaders, concerned about a growing rift with the United States over a possible war in Iraq, spoke out in an effort to calm the war of words between Washington and Paris and Berlin.

France and Germany made it clear this week that they opposed a war in Iraq and were not likely to support a United Nations resolution authorizing war, infuriating Bush administration officials. Yesterday, the European Union's senior security adviser, Javier Solana, urged calm.

"I think we have to cool off a little bit," he said, and "look at the situation with rational eyes. We are allies of the United States. We have a very profound friendship with the United States, and we have to do the utmost to maintain this relationship."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who is particularly out of favor in the Bush White House, said: "I want to keep the debate factual, and I don't want to take part in polemic disputes. This difference of opinion that we are having at the moment should not destroy the German-American relationship."

Still, it was clear that no one's opinion had changed. Schroeder spoke yesterday by phone with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, and a spokesman said Putin had "stressed the closeness of the positions of Russia and Germany in calling for a political solution of the Iraq problem."

At the White House, Bush's chief spokesman, Ari Fleischer, maintained the administration's hard line.

Saddam Hussein, Fleischer said, "is engaging in a constant pattern now" of "defying inspectors, refusing to cooperate with inspectors, showing the inspectors facilities in which he knows nothing will be found." The Iraqi president, Fleischer added, "is making the end of the line come even closer by his unacceptable behavior."

The White House also disclosed that Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller would visit Bush at the White House early next month. The administration has held Poland up as one of the European countries in agreement with Washington on Iraq, in sharp contrast to France and Germany. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington's closest ally, is to visit Bush at Camp David the weekend of Feb. 1.

Yesterday, two more U.S. warships passed through the Suez Canal on their way toward Iraq, and two British warships are to sail through the canal over the weekend. By mid-February, more than 150,000 American about 30,000 British forces are expected to be in the region.

All this week, senior administration officials from numerous offices of government have berated Iraq, apparently laying the groundwork for war. Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton, speaking at a news conference in Tokyo yesterday, said Washington had "convincing evidence" that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction even though U.N. arms inspectors have said they have not found any.

"This is information that we have, and I think that, at an appropriate time and in an appropriate way, we will make the case about Iraq's violations," Bolton said.

On Thursday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz made the administration's case that international arms inspectors could not be expected to do the job. His remarks appeared to anticipate a conclusion by the inspectors that they had found no clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

"This is not a game; it is deadly serious," Wolfowitz said in his speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. "We are dealing with a threat to the security of our nation and the world. If a government is unwilling to disarm itself, it is unreasonable to expect the inspectors to do it for them."

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