- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 (UPI) — France's latest move Monday to block NATO from considering sending military aid to Turkey as part of its attempt to prevent U.S.-led military action against Iraq was "shortsighted" and harmful to the Atlantic alliance, President George W. Bush said Monday.

"I wouldn't say 'upset' is the proper word," Bush said in answer to a reporter's question. "I am disappointed that France would block NATO from helping a country like Turkey to prepare (against possible attack by Iraq).

"I don't understand the decision. (It) … affects the alliance in a negative way."

Bush stressed longstanding ties between the United States and France, seen as the prime mover in the blocking effort, and said he hoped it would change its mind on giving Iraq more time to cooperate with inspectors and not be physically forced to rid itself of contraband weapons.

"Their decision … is shortsighted, in my opinion. I hope they reconsider," he said. "The risk of inaction outweigh" the risks of forcing Iraq to comply with international disarmament mandates and disarm itself of the chemical and biological weapons it was known to possess in the late 1990s.

France, together with Germany and Belgium, had twice before blocked NATO from considering Washington's request that Turkey be provided with Patriot missile batteries, chemical/biological weapons protection and other support in case it were to be attacked by Iraq for allowing coalition forces to use Turkish territory.

All three are adamantly opposed to the use of force and want weapons inspectors in Iraq to be given more time to try to ferret out contraband arms and arms materials.

France, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with veto power over any resolution authorizing force against Baghdad, is supported in its go-slow position by Russia and China, two other veto-empowered permanent members.

The blockage in NATO by three important allies marks a first in the organization that operates on consensus. Turkey is now requesting formal support under the provision of mutual defense, another first-time request in the history of the U.S.-led organization, formed after World War II to counter the Soviet threat.

Article IV states that NATO's members will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any NATO country is threatened.

If the three had not raised an objection to the proposal to beef up Turkish defenses, the measure would have automatically gone into effect.

"We have a serious problem, and therefore it has to be resolved," NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said. "Where there are deadlocks in the alliance, we usually arrive at a consensus solution in due course, and that is what will happen here again today. But I don't underestimate the seriousness of the division that there is within the alliance."

Robertson also indicated there were initially strong feelings expressed during a NATO meeting over the U.S. request to aid Turkey, but a later session Monday was calmer.

"Clearly when a matter is serious, when the alliance's credibility is being questioned, I think in an exaggerated way, but when it is, then inevitably there are strong feelings that are expressed," he said.

Ironically, Moscow's former satellites — Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, for example — support Washington's argument that Saddam Hussein must be made to toe the mark and be disarmed of contraband weapons.

That new reality of Eastern European support for America resulted in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld saying earlier this month that France, Germany and Belgium represented "old Europe."

Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell on Monday called the latest block by France, Germany and Belgium "outrageous."

Bush — backed by NATO members Spain, Britain, Denmark, Italy and others — has repeatedly said time was running out for Saddam to cooperate fully with international weapons inspectors and to prove he had destroyed weapons of mass destruction.

In other developments Monday, Bush met with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who voiced solidarity with the president.

Howard, a staunch ally in the stand-off despite widespread public disapproval of war without U.N. sanction, has already sent a contingent of troops to the Gulf .

"Australia's position concerning Iraq is very clear," Howard said from the Oval Office. "We believe a world in which weapons of mass destruction are in the hands of rogue states, with the potential of falling into the hands of terrorists" is not a world Australia would want to be part of if it could avoid it.

Earlier in the day Bush accused the Iraqi leader of using civilians as human shields to protect his military forces so the Iraqi leader could blame the United States should there be civilian casualties in the event of war.

The White House also dismissed reports that said Saddam was prepared to cooperate more with international inspectors, including allowing the overflight of U-2 surveillance aircraft in support of inspection operations.

"Iraq needs to disarm, and the reason we need to fly U-2 flights is because they are not disarming," Bush said. "This is a man trying to stall for time, he's been successful at it for 12 years.

"We are not playing hide-and-seek," Bush said before meeting with Howard. "Saddam Hussein has got to disarm. If he doesn't, we'll disarm him."

Bush has made it clear the U.N. Security Council has little time left to act on Iraq by passing a second resolution to buttress its mandate of November, and authorize forced disarmament of Iraq.

Failure to do so would not only result in U.S. action without its approval, it would also undercut the organization's relevance in international affairs, he said.

Earlier Monday, Bush traveled to Nashville, Tenn., to address a convention of religious broadcasters.

During his remarks, he accused Saddam's regime of using civilians as human shields.

"In violation of the Geneva Convention, Saddam Hussein is positioning his military forces within civilian populations, to shield his military and place" the blame for any injuries they may suffer in a war on others. Saddam views his people "as human shields and totally expendable," he said. The United States views the Iraqi people "as human beings who have suffered enough under a tyrant."

Bush repeated the pledge that U.S. forces, if called into action against Baghdad, would do all they can to avoid civilian casualties. He also repeated the promise that food, medical supplies and "most importantly, freedom" would follow behind U.S. and coalition forces.

Deputy White House spokesman Scott McClellan, questioned on Air Force One about the human-shield allegation, cited unspecified intelligence sources.

"We know the type of person that Saddam Hussein is; we know his history; we know the intelligence that we've received and reports we've received," he said. "This is a brutal dictator who has a long history of using civilians to further his own purposes, and has a long history of defying the international community."

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