Bush gives U.N. room for quick action on Iraq

New resolution welcome if it's a `signal' to disarm

Not necessary for U.S. attack

Blair emphasizes need for international unity

February 01, 2003|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush said yesterday that he would welcome a new United Nations resolution authorizing military force in Iraq. But he insisted on a swift timetable of only several weeks for the world body to act and made clear that the United States was ready to lead an attack with or without U.N. backing.

The president, after meeting for several hours with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his staunchest ally on Iraq, said a new resolution "would be welcomed, if it is yet another signal that we are intent upon disarming Saddam Hussein." He insisted, though, that the Security Council resolution approved last year, demanding that Iraq disarm or face consequences, gave the United States all the authorization it needs to wage war.

Bush's statement marked a small victory for Blair, who, while firmly backing the president, has also sounded some notes of restraint. He has tried to persuade Bush of the need for a broad international front against Hussein. Blair expressed confidence yesterday that the Security Council would approve a new resolution.

Sounding more eager for a new resolution than Bush did, Blair said, "What is important is that the international community comes together again."

But in their joint appearance, the two leaders tried hard to display unity and the impression of complete agreement on how to handle Iraq. It is clear, Blair declared, that Hussein is defying U.N. demands that he disarm.

The British leader called the coming weeks "a test for the international community." And, echoing a frequent refrain of the president, Blair said, "Time is running out."

Neither leader set any deadlines for the Security Council to vote on a new resolution - or for Iraq to disarm - before their nations would invade.

"This is a matter of weeks, not months," Bush said again yesterday. "Any attempt to drag the process on for months will be resisted by the United States."

He added: "This just needs to be resolved quickly."

A senior White House official, asked whether the United States would take a leading role in drafting a new U.N. resolution, said, "We'll be involved in any discussions about it."

A new resolution, the official said, is "desirable, but not necessary."

A State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that other countries would have to take the lead in pushing for a new resolution. Given the president's insistence on a quick timetable, the official said, they should do so within days after a visit to the United Nations on Wednesday by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

"I don't see us slowing down or stopping," the official said. "This train is moving."

Powell presentation

At the United Nations, Powell will present intelligence that administration officials say will show the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, Iraqi efforts to hide those weapons and links between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Some key members of the Security Council, including France, Russia and China, favor giving weapons inspectors more time in Iraq before any military action. Powell's presentation is intended to convince those nations and the public that Hussein has no intention of disarming and to urge them to quickly back a resolution authorizing force.

The meeting between Bush and Blair yesterday had been scheduled for the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains. It was moved to the White House because of foggy weather that prevented Bush from flying to Camp David by helicopter. The meeting was part of what administration officials describe as Bush's last-ditch bid for a diplomatic solution - an effort they say will last no more than several weeks.

Both Bush and Blair say they are convinced that Hussein is flouting the U.N. resolution, approved in November, that demanded he account for and destroy his weapons of mass destruction. But both leaders are trying to amass more support for war from other foreign leaders and from their own publics.

Blair's steady support for Bush's hard-line position on Iraq has been challenged in Britain, where a large majority opposes war. In the United States, polls show that a slight majority of Americans support military action, but only if U.S. allies also take part.

Both leaders dismissed Iraq's invitation this week for U.N. weapons inspectors to begin another phase of inspections. The two chief inspectors, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, have left open the possibility of returning but have said that Iraq must be more cooperative.

Iraqi interference

They have complained, for example, that Iraq has barred surveillance flights by U.S. spy planes to investigate possible weapons sites and has insisted that Iraqi officials be present when the inspectors interview Iraqi scientists.

"Why are they calling back the inspectors?" Blair said. "I think it's fairly obvious. It's because, as the pressure grows, they want to play the same games as they've been playing all the way through. That's why it's important we hold to the path that we've set out."

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