- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 8, 2003

President Bush yesterday said the U.N. Security Council will be "weakened" if it continues to allow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to treat the councils demands as a "joke" by refusing to disarm.

"This is a defining moment for the U.N. Security Council," Mr. Bush told reporters outside the Treasury building. "If the Security Council were to allow a dictator to lie and deceive, the Security Council would be weakened."

The tough talk was aimed at cajoling the council into making good on Resolution 1441, passed unanimously on Nov. 8, which threatened "serious consequences" if Saddam does not disarm.

"And now the members of the Security Council can decide whether or not that resolution will have any force, whether it means anything," the president said. "The U.N. Security Council has got to make up its mind soon as to whether or not its word means anything."

Noting that three months have elapsed since the first resolution was passed, Mr. Bush reiterated his willingness for a second resolution, although he suggested the first was a sufficient trigger for war.

"Ive never felt we needed a resolution," he said. But he added that "it would be helpful to have a resolution so long as it demands compliance."

To that end, Mr. Bush yesterday lobbied two permanent members of the Security Council, China and France. Before speaking by telephone with French President Jacques Chirac, the president spent 20 minutes talking with Chinese President Jiang Zemin about Iraq and North Korea.

North Korea yesterday warned of "horrible nuclear disasters" on the Korean Peninsula if the United States or its allies interfere in Pyongyangs reactivation of a dormant nuclear-power plant. Mr. Bush responded yesterday by linking foreign aid to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-ils nuclear pursuits.

"We will continue to work diplomatically to make it very clear to Kim Jong-il that should he expect any kind of aid and help for his people, that he must comply with the worlds demand that he not develop a nuclear weapon," the president said.

Mr. Bush said he has not ruled out military force against North Korea.

"All options are on the table, but I believe we can solve this diplomatically," Mr. Bush said. "I will continue working diplomatically to convince Kim Jong-il that he will be further isolated if he continues to develop a nuclear program."

But the president reserved his harshest rhetoric for Saddam, who he said has "played a game" with U.N. weapons inspectors instead of coming clean on his chemical-, biological- and nuclear-weapons programs.

"Hes treated the demands of the world as a joke up to now, and it was his choice to make," said Mr. Bush, slipping into the past tense. "You know, if he wanted to disarm, he would have disarmed."

Although the president did not mention the French by name, he ridiculed their position that the solution in Iraq is to double or triple the number of weapons inspectors. That position was articulated by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell presented a lengthy indictment of Saddam to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday.

"I heard somebody say the other day, well, how about a beefed-up inspection regime," Mr. Bush said. "Well, the role of inspectors is to sit there and verify whether or not hes disarmed, not to play hide-and-seek in a country the size of California.

"If Saddam Hussein was interested in peace and interested in complying with the U.N. Security Council resolutions, he would have disarmed," he added. "And, yet, for 12 years, plus 90 days, he has tried to avoid disarmament by lying and deceiving."

But the leaders of France and China said they wanted to give inspectors more time to oversee a peaceful disarmament of Iraq.

Mr. Chirac also issued a stern warning to Baghdad to comply with U.N. inspectors but said he still disagreed with Mr. Bushs declaration Thursday that time has run out for Saddam. "An alternative to war still exists. The decision to resort to war cannot be made lightly," Mr. Chirac said.

For all his condemnations of Saddam, Mr. Bush yesterday insisted the dictator is still holding the cards when it comes to the question of a military confrontation.

"Hes the person who gets to decide war and peace," the president said. "Thats up to Saddam Hussein."

Meanwhile, U.S. and British diplomats began considering options for a new U.N. resolution yesterday, including one that would give Saddam a brief window to relinquish power to avoid a war, diplomats told the Associated Press.

One idea being floated would threaten military action unless Saddam removes himself from power or is removed by his own people by a certain deadline, possibly 48 hours, according to Security Council diplomats speaking on the condition of anonymity.

It is doubtful that this option would win enough support. However, diplomats said that it might be presented as a tough starting position that the United States and Britain could later soften.

Other options included a resolution that would note negative findings from the weapons inspectors, repeat that Iraq was in violation of its obligations, and remind Saddam that he faces "serious consequences." That option, while not explicitly authorizing force, could garner wide support because all 15 council members would be eager to support the inspectors and keep up the pressure on Baghdad to comply.

But a British diplomat said the resolution, which would be ready by the time inspectors deliver their next assessments on Feb. 14, will need to authorize force in some way. "Thats our red line," the diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Council diplomats said another possibility is that countries opposing a rush to war might introduce a resolution supporting the continuation of inspections for six months.

France, Germany, Russia and others began a diplomatic offensive yesterday to head off a military attack against Iraq and prolong weapons inspections as a means of containing the crisis. Their success may depend on what concessions the chief U.N. arms inspectors can wrangle out of the Iraqi leadership on a visit to Baghdad this weekend.

Three Iraqi arms experts gave private interviews to U.N. monitors yesterday on the eve of a pivotal visit by the two chief weapons inspectors, who will demand greater cooperation from Baghdad to stave off war.

The United Nations confirmed the new interviews late yesterday, saying inspectors interviewed a senior scientist, a missile expert and a chemical engineer without the presence of Iraqi witnesses. Their names were not released.

The president is expected to order war against Iraq within the next month if Saddam is not disarmed or exiled. In order to continue making the case for military action, the administration has dispatched Mr. Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to appear on tomorrow mornings political television talk shows.

The State Department was preparing yesterday to advise nonessential U.S. diplomats and family members to leave Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, a U.S. official said. Also expected was a travel warning advising Americans to stay away from Iraq.

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