- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

NEW YORK U.S. officials said yesterday they were unlikely to ask the U.N. Security Council to authorize a war with Iraq over its repeated attacks on allied aircraft patrolling the nation's no-fly zones, even though they consider the attacks a "material breach" of this month's landmark council resolution.
The comments, the first weakening in the Bush administration's insistence on "zero tolerance" of Iraqi violations of the resolution, came as the chief U.N. weapons inspectors arrived in Baghdad for the first time in four years and reported "progress" in their initial meeting with the Iraqis.
Despite its evident cooperation with the inspectors, Saddam Hussein's government took a belligerent stand yesterday on the no-fly zones over the north and south of the country, vowing to defend "every inch" of its territory. Yesterday Iraqi gunners attacked U.S. or British aircraft patrolling the zone for the third time since Friday.
"The United States believes that firing upon our aircraft in the no-fly zone, or British aircraft, is a violation; it is a material breach," White House spokesman Sean McClellan told reporters in Washington. "And what the U.N. resolution allows us to do is it gives us the option, if we choose, to take that to the Security Council."
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld also said the Bush administration was in no rush to act.
"It seems to me that what will happen is a pattern of behavior will evolve, and then people will make judgments with respect to it," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters flying with him to a summit of Western Hemisphere defense ministers in Chile.
"It's up to the president and the U.N. Security Council on their view of Iraq's behavior over a period of time," Mr. Rumsfeld said, "and those discussions have just begun.''
In New York, however, a U.S. official indicated that the American position has so little support in the Security Council that it was unlikely to become the basis of any military attack.
"There is open disagreement" on the legality of the patrols, said the official, who spoke on the condition he not be identified. "It wouldn't be our strong suit if we brought that back into the council."
"We and the Russians and others note that there is differing interpretation over [whether the Iraqi attacks violate the latest resolution] and we, both of us, decided not to highlight that."
The official added there was "other useful material" in the resolution that could be used to justify an attack "such as protecting inspectors and those who are working with them."
The United States and Britain created no-fly and no-drive zones shortly after the Gulf war to separate the Kurdish north and predominantly Shi'ite south from central Iraq, which is still ruled by Saddam Hussein's regime.
The Americans and British note that many council resolutions demand that Iraq stop harassing its minorities and say the air patrols are enforcing those resolutions.
But the zones are not specifically mentioned in any resolution, and Baghad rejects them as a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Several countries including Russia, China and France say the patrols violate the U.N. Charter.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has criticized the imposition of no-fly zones in the gentlest possible language.
U.S. and British planes have flown 1,055 armed sorties over Iraqi airspace in the one-month period ending Oct. 17, according to a letter from Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to the U.N. Security Council, which was released yesterday.
The letter says civilian targets have been repeatedly hit, including schools and houses of worship. It appeals to the council to condemn the "state terrorism."
The chief U.N. weapons inspectors arrived in Baghdad yesterday morning to iron out remaining details before the first inspections begin around Nov. 27.
Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei, who run the programs to ferret out the chemical and biological programs, and nuclear-weapons pursuits, met with Iraqi officials for two hours last night.
"I think we are making progress," Mr. Blix said after the meeting with Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, the Iraqi government's liaison to the inspectors, and presidential adviser Amir al-Saadi. More talks are expected today.


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