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Need for Consensus Doesn't End

November 09, 2002|Doyle McManus | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- "Now comes the hard part," President Bush said Friday.

Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell spent little time savoring their 15-0 diplomatic victory in the U.N. Security Council before turning to the difficult task that lies ahead: holding a fragile new coalition together to demand full cooperation from Iraq on weapons inspections -- and, if Iraq resists, to go to war.

When Bush spoke in the White House Rose Garden on Friday morning, his words were aimed not only at Iraqi President Saddam Hussein but also at his own reluctant allies, from France and Germany to Turkey and some in the Arab world.

"The United Nations Security Council has ... given clear and fair notice that Saddam Hussein must fully disclose and destroy his weapons of mass destruction," Bush said. "Now the world must insist that that judgment be enforced."

Over the next few weeks, U.S. officials said, Bush and his aides will be pressing the offensive against Iraq on three fronts: pushing for an early test of Baghdad's compliance with the U.N. resolution, maintaining the newly won international consensus that Iraq must comply, and all the while preparing -- as noisily as possible -- for a war that the administration still believes is likely to come.

"We're going to be keeping the pressure on. We're going to be keeping the bar high ... and bucking everybody up so Saddam can't get away with noncompliance," a senior official said. "And we're going to continue military preparations."

Within hours of the Security Council vote, Bush and Powell were sending messages to foreign capitals laying out a deliberately stringent view of what Iraq must do to avert a military attack. Not only must Baghdad admit U.N. arms inspectors and turn over a complete inventory of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, they said, but it must allow the inspectors free and immediate access to any person or place they choose.

Hussein's "cooperation must be prompt and unconditional or he will face the severest consequences," Bush said. "Any act of delay or defiance will be an additional breach of Iraq's international obligations."

The first tests will come quickly. The resolution demands that Iraq formally agree to its provisions within seven days and provide a full accounting of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs within 30 days. An advance party of U.N. inspectors will be on the ground in Baghdad by Nov. 18, with a deadline to begin their inspections within 45 days from now.

Moreover, the administration has come up with several gambits to try to force Iraq into an early, clear test of its intentions. -- a strategy known as "front-loading." U.S. intelligence agencies have compiled estimates of Iraq's weaponry to check against the list that Baghdad must submit in 30 days--and, potentially, to catch Hussein in a lie.

U.S. officials have prepared a list of highly sensitive targets for the U.N. inspectors to tackle first. And the administration has urged chief inspector Hans Blix to focus his initial efforts on asking Iraq for as much detailed information as possible -- a test Washington believes will avoid the time-consuming process of sending inspectors around the country.

"The most important factor is Iraqi behavior," one official said. "That's one of the reasons we've put so much emphasis on transfers of information.... Iraq's a big country. There are too many facilities, too many trucks, too much sand to look under. So access to information and access to people become key."

If Iraq fails to comply with any U.N. request the administration and its allies must then decide how to respond. The Security Council may or may not decide to act, but Bush made it clear that he reserves the right to act independently of the U.N.

One official said the U.S. will enforce a "zero tolerance" policy toward Iraqi violations. Others say it will decide on a case-by-case basis whether any violations constitute "a pattern of noncompliance."

"The United States is not poised looking for the first comma out of place," one senior official said. At the same time, he warned, "we're not going to sit back and wait until we see day after day, week after week of violations. I think it'll become clear early on whether or not Iraq tends to cooperate ... and we will take evidence of failure to cooperate, unwillingness to cooperate, right to the council."

In his remarks Friday, Bush sounded like a member of the "zero tolerance" camp:

"With the passage of this resolution, the world must not lapse into unproductive debates over whether specific instances of Iraqi noncompliance are serious. Any Iraqi noncompliance is serious, because such bad faith will show that Iraq has no intention of disarming."

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