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The World | DEBATE ON IRAQ

Bush Urges U.N. to Move Against Iraq

Diplomacy: Calling Hussein 'a threat to peace,' the president asks for enforcement of 1990s resolutions. He warns that the U.S. will act alone if necessary.

September 13, 2002|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNITED NATIONS — President Bush took to the world stage Thursday, challenging the United Nations to join the U.S. in a drive to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein--and warned that America will go it alone if necessary.

"Iraq has answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance," he said in his address before the General Assembly. "All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment."

Calling Hussein "a threat to the authority of the United Nations and a threat to peace," Bush warned that unless the U.N. enforces its many resolutions concerning Iraq, "action will be unavoidable."

By urging the U.N. to join in action against Hussein's regime, Bush appeared to be heeding, for now, the calls from many U.S. allies and foreign leaders that his administration work with the world body in a confrontation with Iraq.

Moments before he spoke, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan forcefully made that point again, telling the president and the other gathered world leaders that any response to Hussein's regime should first have the approval of the United Nations.

But Bush left little doubt that his ultimate aim of effecting a "regime change"--though he was careful not to use the phrase--remained unaltered. If Hussein is left unchecked, the president predicted, "the attacks of Sept. 11 would be a prelude to far greater horrors."

"We cannot stand by and do nothing while dangers gather," he said.

Bush's address, coming only a day after he led the nation's commemoration of last year's terrorist attacks, marked a new phase of the war on terrorism.

Asked about the conflicting messages of a president seeking international support and involvement while also articulating possible unilateral action, a senior administration official said Bush "is always going to reserve his options, as president of the United States, to act on behalf of the interests of the United States."

It was Bush's first address to the U.N. since November, when he appeared as the leader of a nation victimized by terrorism and calling on leaders to back a war against the Al Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, the assembled delegates listened attentively to Bush but showed little outward reaction. Their most enthusiastic applause came when the president announced early on that the U.S. would rejoin UNESCO, which it quit 18 years over the agency's perceived anti-American attitudes.

Leaders were equally cautious after the address, welcoming Bush's talk of working with the U.N. but warning against a rush to war.

"The choice for us is not between action or inaction, but rather knowing how to act," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said.

Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Douri, who sat passively during the address, said later, "I would have been pleased if the U.S. president would have talked about his true motives behind his speech--revenge, oil, political ambitions and also the security of Israel, and targeting every independent state that would refuse to adhere to the American policy."

To accompany Bush's speech, the administration released a 21-page "white paper" listing Iraqi violations of U.N. resolutions. The paper provided allegations dating back to the 1980s, but it was cautious and vague in its discussion of recent intelligence.

In the 25-minute address that exceeded his allotted 15 minutes, Bush methodically made his case against Hussein's regime, describing it as "a grave and gathering danger."

To underscore Bush's growing sense of urgency, a top White House official said after the address that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell would consult here today with more than a dozen foreign leaders about "moving forward" against Iraq.

Bush's courtship of the world body is noteworthy because he has been widely criticized as a leader inclined to act unilaterally on international issues.

One U.S. ally after another in recent weeks has expressed reservations about a war to unseat Hussein, fearful that such action could destabilize the Middle East and disrupt the U.S.-declared war on terrorism. Their concerns, however, have not dissuaded Bush from his intentions; the president took the opportunity Thursday to strongly make his case to the U.N. for action against Iraq.

In Washington, lawmakers of both parties had urged him to do so, and many on Thursday hailed the president's appeal.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) called it "a strong speech" and predicted that it would help the president build an international coalition against Baghdad.

"That international support, I think, is a critical element to our overall prospects for success," Daschle said.

But Daschle rejected a plea from the Bush administration for a quick congressional vote to support possible action against Iraq, saying that too many diplomatic and military questions remained unanswered.

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