Iraq yesterday rejected a demand from President Bush that it allow weapons inspectors back into the country, but the United States sought to lower expectations that it will attack Iraq as part of its anti-terror military campaign.
At the same time, after failing to get Russia’s consent for “smart sanctions” against Iraq before the current sanctions expire on Friday, Washington obtained Moscow’s commitment to revise the embargo after six months, U.S. officials said.
U.S. warplanes attacked an air-defense target in southern Iraq yesterday, but the Pentagon said the incident had nothing to do with Mr. Bush’s comments on Monday and was in response to continuing Iraqi threats against American and British jets patrolling a no-fly zone there.
A day after Mr. Bush said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein “will find out” the consequences of not allowing weapons inspectors back into his country, the White House yesterday remained vague about how it might deal with Baghdad in the future.
“The president left that for Saddam Hussein to figure out,” White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters. “If Iraq is not willing to let arms inspectors into their country, they continue to violate an agreement that they promised to keep.”
Mr. Fleischer said “the president is focused on phase one” of the campaign against terrorism. “Anything that may come subsequent to that would be something the president would discuss at the appropriate time if and whether that would come to be,” he said.
A defiant Baghdad said yesterday it’s not afraid of U.S. threats and is ready to defend itself against any attack.
“Anyone who thinks Iraq can accept an arrogant and unilateral will of this party or that is mistaken,” an Iraqi government spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Iraqi News Agency.
U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq in December 1998, shortly before the United States and Britain began four days of air strikes to punish Saddam for refusing to cooperate with them. Baghdad has said it would allow inspectors back in only if sanctions imposed after the 1991 Persian Gulf war are lifted.
At the United Nations yesterday, the United States and Russia agreed to keep the current U.N. oil-for-food program in place for six more months, after which a carefully scrutinized list of civilian goods will be allowed into Iraq.
“There is a consensus on a draft resolution on the concept of a goods-review list, which will be put to a vote by the Security Council on Thursday or Friday,” said a U.S. diplomat familiar with the draft.
“Between now and May 31 we’ll work on refining the items on the list and the procedures of implementing it to make sure that components of weapons of mass destruction don’t get in,” he said.
The United States had initially proposed a four-month “rollover period,” but Russia insisted on a half-year, the diplomat said. An annex to this week’s resolution containing the list of goods will be adopted by the Security Council on June 1, 2002, he added.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov spoke on the phone about the sanctions program on Monday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Some of Washington’s closest allies yesterday echoed Mr. Bush’s demand that inspectors return to Iraq but warned against widening the U.S.-led military campaign against Afghanistan without clear evidence of state involvement in the September 11 attacks.
“This is a military campaign specifically directed against those responsible for the mass murders of September 11,” junior Foreign Office minister Ben Bradshaw told the House of Commons in London. “There is no evidence of any state involvement, and in the absence of such evidence those military objectives remain as they have done all along.”
In Paris, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters that “the statement by the U.S. president is natural and goes in the right direction.”
However, a senior French diplomatic source was quoted by wire reports as saying that France believes U.S. military action should be limited to Afghanistan.
Some of these concerns were echoed by countries in the Middle East.
Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa said a U.S. attack on any Arab country as part of its war on terrorism would be a “fatal mistake.”
In Cairo, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told reporters that “striking against any Arab country will be the end of harmony within the international alliance against terrorism.”
The U.S. military’s Central Command in Tampa, Fla., said yesterday’s air strike was on a target at An Nasiriah, about 170 miles southeast of Baghdad.
“This action was taken to reduce the threat to the coalition aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone and has no connection with ‘Operation Enduring Freedom,’” in Afghanistan, the Central Command said in a statement.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.