- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2002

PRAGUE NATO yesterday pledged its "full support" for the U.S.-led effort to disarm Saddam Hussein, giving President Bush new momentum to take action against Iraq "with our close friends."
"We deplore Iraq's failure to comply fully with its obligations," said the leaders of all 19 NATO nations, including Germany, which nonetheless declined to pledge troops to the effort.
The leaders issued a joint statement expressing strong support for a recent U.N. Security Council resolution that calls on the Iraqi leader to disarm or face the wrath of the international community.
"NATO allies stand united in their commitment to take effective action to assist and support the efforts of the U.N. to ensure full and immediate compliance by Iraq," the leaders said. "[Iraq] will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violation of its obligations."
The communique gives a boost to Mr. Bush, who has been trying to round up support for disarming Saddam while attending a summit that yesterday expanded NATO to 26 members.
"If he chooses not to disarm, we will work with our close friends," the closest of which is Great Britainfl "and we will disarm him," Mr. Bush said during a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Germany continued to insist that while it supported the NATO joint statement, it opposed sending German troops into Iraq. White House officials explained that the NATO statement was an expression of political support and not necessarily a specific commitment of troops from each nation.
Although Germany and other allies continued to express hope that Saddam will avert a military strike by fully complying with U.N. resolutions, the Bush administration all but predicted a showdown.
"We're deeply skeptical that this regime is ever going to fully live up to the U.N. Security Council resolutions to which it signed," said National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. She scoffed at the notion that Iraq would disarm "with this regime in power."
Meanwhile, Mr. Bush made clear that Russia's cooperation in any military action against Iraq might be rewarded with a stake in Iraqi oil fields.
"We understand Russia has got interests there, as do other countries, and of course those interests will be honored," the president told a Russian TV station in an interview that was conducted Tuesday but not released by the White House until yesterday.
The NATO statement on Iraq capped six months of intensive, behind-the-scenes lobbying by the Bush administration. Members received top-secret briefings by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin.
On Tuesday, the United States submitted a draft statement to fellow NATO members in Brussels.
"And within 18 hours we had agreement on that text that's warp speed," said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We had it done with a minimal amount of editing, so there wasn't a lot of jockeying for position. People weren't ducking for cover behind artful phrases."
The White House was particularly pleased by Germany's support of the NATO statement. Germany has been sharply critical of America's eagerness to disarm Iraq, causing a rift that was partially healed Wednesday when Mr. Bush shook hands with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at a dinner.
"I'm very gratified by Germany's having signed up to this statement quickly and doing so, frankly, without dragging its claws or being pushed," said a second senior administration official.
Now that the administration has enlisted the overt support of all 19 NATO nations and all 15 members of the Security Council, it is casting an even wider net by asking a total of 52 countries to side with the United States against Iraq.
"I believe we're getting very great interest on the part of a number of states," Miss Rice said in response to questions from The Washington Times.
"Everybody understands that this is a test of Saddam's willingness to cooperate, but it's also a test of the credibility of the international community, of the U.N., to be able to act and to have that action taken seriously."
She added: "It's an important signal to a lot of other states around the world that might want to go the route that Saddam Hussein has gone."
One senior official was asked by The Times why the administration is refusing to disclose the list of 52 nations whose support is being solicited.
"Well, I don't know about the secrecy, but it's usually a better idea when you're discussing issues of military contributions not to do so completely publicly," the official said. "To be credible, the diplomatic track that we're now on requires us to be prepared in the event other means prove necessary."
Miss Rice said the NATO statement against Iraq puts tremendous additional pressure on Saddam to disarm. She said that will happen only "if Iraq believes that the world is united in insisting on disarmament of Iraq. And what you saw in the NATO summit statement was an insistence by the world that Iraq disarm."
The statement on Iraq nearly overshadowed NATO's invitations to Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia to join the alliance.
"It was a historic summit today, really the most historic summit since NATO's founding in 1949," Miss Rice said. "It was remarkable to do this in Prague, which of course has been a site of one of the pitched battles of the Cold War, when Soviet tanks invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968."
She added: "The remarkable thing about this is that it has been done in a framework that allowed not just the entry of the seven new states into NATO, but the reconciliation of NATO with Russia in the new Russia-NATO Council."
That reconciliation process continues today as Mr. Bush visits Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg. Mr. Bush said he would press Mr. Putin to expand freedoms in Russia.
"I press any leader that doesn't believe 100 percent in freedom," the president said in an interview with a Lithuanian TV station. He said issues to be discussed might include "freedom of the press, or Chechnya, or issues that indicate there might not be a wholehearted commitment to freedom of the people."
He added: "We want Russia to be a country based upon the values which we share, because we believe those values are the best values for the human condition of everybody."
Also at yesterday's summit, NATO agreed to a U.S. proposal to create a rapid reaction force of 21,000 troops that would hunt down terrorists instead of providing conventional defense of Europe.


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