YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Bush Seems Unfazed by Setbacks

February 11, 2003|Robin Wright | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Faced with a European rebellion on Iraq, the Bush administration scrambled Monday to keep its strategy for rallying U.N. support for imminent military intervention from losing steam -- or being overtaken.

Washington's response was a fast and furious counterattack, with administration officials publicly talking tough and privately expressing confidence that the United States would prevail in the end. U.S. officials insisted that what looks like a growing diplomatic schism among Western allies on two issues -- how long U.N. weapons inspections should continue and whether NATO should now begin preparations to protect Turkey in the event of war -- is nothing more than a blip on the screen.

"Our argument now has so much momentum that it will be hard for any group of countries to derail it for long. In the end, the power of the argument will ultimately isolate those in denial," said an administration official who requested anonymity.

Many in Washington considered Monday a day of serious setbacks for the U.S., but President Bush simply dismissed an initiative by France, Russia and Germany to beef up the inspections and prolong the process. He countered that the United Nations needed only "one or two" inspectors if Iraq fulfilled its obligation to voluntarily disarm.

He also expressed deep disappointment in France, Germany and Belgium for failing to support Turkey's bid for NATO protection, which he said was "shortsighted."

"I think it affects the alliance in a negative way when you're not able to make a statement of mutual defense," he said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld predicted that North Atlantic Treaty Organization members would in the end guarantee Turkey's protection -- or that the United States would merely do whatever it takes on its own to reassure a country vital to its war plan for Iraq.

And Secretary of State Colin L. Powell continued to work toward a second U.N. resolution on Iraq. He conducted intense behind-the-scenes telephone diplomacy, as talk circulated of a possible compromise on a new U.N. resolution that will probably be taken up in Security Council discussions next week.

The United States, sources say, would like a resolution that states that Iraq has failed to comply with its obligations to disarm and is therefore in material breach of U.N. resolutions, which means it is time for Baghdad to face serious consequences. However, the options for a second resolution are not likely to take definitive form until after chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix presents an interim report on Iraqi cooperation with inspections, which is due Friday at the Security Council.

U.S. officials said they believe they can eventually isolate France and get it to agree to not use its Security Council veto against a compromise measure.

The Bush administration said it was not even fazed by Iraqi concessions Monday.

At the United Nations, Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Douri announced that Baghdad had agreed to U-2 surveillance overflights to aid inspectors. Iraq also pledged to soon enact a law banning all production of weapons of mass destruction, a U.N. demand dating to the 1991 cease-fire ending the Persian Gulf War, and to encourage more private interviews with scientists.

"We are trying always to explain our position -- that we are cooperating, that we are not in material breach, that we are doing our utmost to cooperate," Douri said. "We are looking to the international community to act. We are working hard to avoid war."

The steps were the three key demands of Blix and his colleague Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, during weekend talks in Baghdad.

However, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein said later that the U.S. and Britain, which currently patrol two "no-fly" zones over Iraq to protect Kurds and Shiite Muslims, should refrain from airstrikes on Iraqi targets while surveillance planes are operating.

Iraq's qualifications led Bush to dismiss Hussein's last-minute attempt to defer action. "This is a man who is trying to stall for time," Bush told reporters.

To offset the appearance of an emerging counter-coalition at the United Nations, the United States continued plugging ahead in solidifying its own so-called "coalition of the willing" prepared to stand with Washington to forcibly disarm Iraq even without a U.N. endorsement.

Bush played host Monday to Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch U.S. ally who was among the first to pledge support and aid for any military intervention in Iraq.

Afterward, in language echoing Bush's recent comments, Howard said his message to Hussein is, "Mate, the game is up."

"We believe a world in which weapons of mass destruction are in the hands of rogue states, with the potential threat of them falling into the hands of terrorists, is not a world that Australia, if we can possibly avoid it, wants to be part of," he told reporters.

Los Angeles Times Articles