U.S. Says Hussein Must Cede Power to Head Off War
By Felicity Barringer with David E. Sanger
New York Times
Saturday 1 March 2003
UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 28 The White House said today that Iraq could prevent war only by both disarming and sending Saddam Hussein into exile, an apparent shift from the administration's previous position.
At the same time, Russia's foreign minister threatened to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution that says Iraq has missed its last chance of avoiding war.
The hardening of positions on both sides increases the pressure on the six uncommitted members of the Security Council, who have looked to the work of Hans Blix, one of the chief United Nations weapons inspectors, for guidance on Iraqi compliance. Mr. Blix's latest report, formally delivered to Council members today, gives ammunition to both sides and does not offer the kind of unambiguous judgment that could help resolve the doubts of those who are wavering. [Excerpts, Page A8.]
France and Russia seized on Iraq's decision "in principle" to begin destroying its 120 or so short-range Al Samoud 2 missiles as further evidence that the inspections process was working. Mr. Blix, in a brief conversation with reporters this morning, called the decision "a very significant piece of real disarmament."
His deputy, Demetrius Perricos, was in Baghdad today to oversee the initial phases of the missiles' destruction.
Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said today that the President Bush was hopeful that war could be averted, but that to escape military action, Iraq must "completely and totally" disarm or Mr. Hussein and his top leaders must agree to "go into exile."
That combination of events, he said, looked highly unlikely.
Pressed on the point, Mr. Fleischer said both would be necessary conditions because disarmament was the United Nations' goal and changing Iraq's government was the president's.
He noted that Mr. Bush had predicted a token move by Mr. Hussein to alleviate pressure and to try to divide the Security Council. He said, "the Iraqi actions are propaganda, wrapped in a lie, inside a falsehood," paraphrasing Churchill's famous 1939 remark about Russia. Asked whether Mr. Bush's standard for war goes beyond that of the United Nations, Mr. Fleischer said, "It's disarmament and regime change."
The statement puts the United States on a different track from the United Nations, whose resolutions have been concerned with the immediate and unconditional disarmament, not with a change of government in Baghdad.
The Canadian prime minister, Jean Chr tien, in Mexico City where he is consulting on the Iraq issue, said today with visible agitation: "If you start changing regimes, where do you stop, this is the problem? Who is next? Give me the list, the priorities."
Hours before Mr. Fleischer spoke, the Russian foreign minister, Igor S. Ivanov, derided the variety of America's stated goals for Iraq. "The talk now is not about disarmament but about a change of regime," Mr. Ivanov said to reporters in Beijing. "In recent days, the military option against Iraq is posed like a step aimed at democratic transformations in the Arab world."
Mr. Ivanov added that "Russia has the right to veto" and "will use it if it is necessary in the interests of international stability."
"Russia will not support a resolution or resolutions which directly or indirectly open a way towards a power solution of the Iraqi problem," Mr. Ivanov said.
The United States, Britain and Spain introduced a resolution Monday that effectively asks the Security Council to declare that Iraq has missed its last chance to disarm to avoid war. A veto would kill the resolution.
In Madrid, the British prime minister, Tony Blair, derided Iraq's pledge of cooperation, saying, "This is not a time for games." At the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el Sheik, Arab League leaders met to try to formulate a unified response to the prospect of war.
Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Maher, speaking to reporters, welcomed Iraq's announcement about the missiles, but called on Mr. Hussein's government to cooperate fully with United Nations resolutions. He and other diplomats, however, dismissed a suggestion made Thursday by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that the league should prod Mr. Hussein to step down.
Some Arab states, led by Syria, continued to press for a resolution that would oppose the use of force to resolve the crisis, and called on Iraq's neighbors to deny the use of their military bases, according to participants in the talks. Countries where those forces have already massed, including Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, however, support a strong resolution calling on Iraq to comply.
Mr. Blix's latest report, which outlines the inspectors' work and Iraqi reactions during the last three months, outlined a litany of spotty Iraqi cooperation on the destruction of weapons. The Iraqis, the report said, are destroying "small known quantities" of mustard gas under inspectors' supervision, and have identified two R-400 aerial bombs that were left intact when 118 others were destroyed at a site called Al Aziziyah.
It added: "It is hard to understand why a number of the measures, which are now being taken could not have been initiated earlier. If they had been taken earlier, they might have borne fruit by now."
The report also said, "The results in terms of disarmament have been very limited so far."
The report was delivered to the various United Nations missions this afternoon, and few of the envoys contacted had read it.
Among those who had seen it was Sergey Lavrov, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations. Asked today if Iraq had complied with disarmament demands, he said: "I believe they have been complying. They have not fully satisfied the remaining issues, but the steps which they have taken so far, especially in the last weeks, are steps in the right direction."
Mr. Fleischer insisted that Russia's statements were "not an indication that there will be a veto," and another senior White House official said there were indications that Russia might, eventually, come over to the side of the United States.
But clearly the Bush administration is scurrying for votes. Today it indicated that it was preparing to recognize Bulgaria, another member of the Council, as a "market economy," a move that would bring it a number of trading benefits with the United States. Bulgaria is one of the countries that have been showered with Washington's attentions in recent days, as the jockeying for votes increases.
The Bulgarian envoy to the United Nations, Stefan Tafrov, said this evening. "We are trying to achieve the unity of the Council to the extent possible. We believe that Iraq is in material breach and the Council should put on more pressure." Bulgaria has been considered a sure vote for the pending resolution, but its diplomats have been careful not to commit themselves publicly.
France, Russia and Germany have offered the Council an alternate suggestion though not in the form of a resolution which envisages another four months of inspections.
France or Russia could block the British-American-Spanish resolution with vetos, or simply by obtaining 7 of the 15 Council votes.
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