- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2002

PRAGUE President Bush yesterday warned Iraq not to repeat its "lie" that it has no weapons of mass destruction and urged an expanding NATO to side with Washington against Baghdad.
As administration officials quietly stepped up overtures to individual allies such as Canada and France for support in disarming Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Mr. Bush scoffed at Baghdad's claim that it has no chemical or biological weapons.
"Saddam Hussein has been given a very short time to declare completely and truthfully his arsenal of terror," the president told an audience of Prague college students. "Should he again deny that this arsenal exists, he will have entered his final stage with a lie."
Meanwhile, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan yesterday said there would be limits on the U.N. weapons inspections, and vowed to prevent inspectors from gathering "intelligence." He said Iraq would support efforts to verify it is "free of weapons of mass destruction."
U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said Baghdad did not raise any questions about the inspections, even about unannounced checks at Saddam's palaces, an issue that helped derail inspections in the 1990s.
Mr. Bush's tough talk coincided with administration efforts to gauge the level of support America can expect from allies if and when it goes to war against Iraq. The consultation process is "widespread" and involves "many nations," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said.
The number of nations could reach 52 and includes stalwart U.S. allies such as Britain, which said it was recently approached by the Bush administration to quantify its previously pledged support. Britain and other nations are being asked by U.S. ambassadors whether they can supply combat troops, logistics, humanitarian aid and, "if necessary," resources to rebuild Iraq after war.
"The results of these consultations have been impressive," said a senior Bush administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We've seen a crystallization of world community opinion in the past couple of months, which has been very heartening."
Even as Mr. Bush spoke, President Jacques Chirac of France reiterated his position that the United States cannot determine on its own whether to wage war against Iraq.
The U.N. Security Council "is the only body established to put in motion action of a military nature, to take the responsibility, to commit the international community," Mr. Chirac said.
The president addressed the Prague students just hours after telling reporters "the game's over" for Saddam, who has long defied resolutions of the U.N. Security Council.
"We're through with that," Mr. Bush said during a joint press conference with Czech President Vaclav Havel. "And now he's going to disarm, one way or the other. In the name of peace, he will be disarmed."
The president made clear he is counting on NATO, which expands tomorrow to 26 nations from 19, to help him achieve that goal. NATO is expected to issue a communique today pledging its support for the U.S.-led effort to disarm Saddam, according to Mr. Fleischer.
Mr. Bush sought to downplay the significance of Saddam's decision to allow U.N. weapons inspections to resume. Under the terms of the latest U.N. resolution, Saddam has until Dec. 8 to give a complete inventory of his weapons of mass destruction.
"America's goal, the world's goal, is more than the return of inspectors to Iraq," Mr. Bush said. "Our goal is to secure the peace through the comprehensive and verified disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Voluntarily, or by force, that goal will be achieved."
Although the administration is targeting 52 nations to help achieve that goal, Mr. Bush is concentrating on the half that will be in NATO after an alliance summit that begins today. NATO is offering membership to seven new countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Like the Czech Republic, which is already a member, several of the new invitees are former nations of the Warsaw Pact, a defunct Soviet political and military alliance designed to offset NATO. Mr. Bush noted this irony during his speech to the Czech students.
"The days of the Warsaw Pact seem distant," he said. "They must seem to you; after all, the Warsaw pact ended half a lifetime ago for you."
He said today's NATO expansion is a "decisive" moment in history.
"It's a bold decision to guarantee the freedom of millions of people," the president said.
But the expansion of NATO to Russia's doorstep has riled Moscow. To assuage the concerns of President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Bush will visit the Russian leader tomorrow in his hometown of St. Petersburg.
"A larger NATO is good for Russia," Mr. Bush insisted. "Russia does not require a buffer zone of protection. It needs peaceful and prosperous neighbors who are also friends."
The senior administration official, responding to questions from The Washington Times, said Russia is objecting "less intensely" to the current NATO expansion than it did to the last expansion in the late 1990s.
"In fact, some Russians are beginning to understand that NATO enlargement actually benefits Russia's security because it brings stable, secure democracies to Russia's border," the official said.
One way of smoothing Moscow's ruffled feathers, according to Mr. Bush, is to "increase our cooperation with Russia for the security of all of us" through the NATO-Russia Council.
The president acknowledged that NATO's newest members will be small, former communist states that cannot begin to match America's military contribution to the alliance. He called on some to increase military spending and others to develop more agile and modern fighting forces.
That would help the president realize his goal of creating a rapid reaction force of 21,000 troops that could hunt down terrorists in Europe and elsewhere.
"NATO forces must be organized to operate outside of Europe," Mr. Bush said. "When forces were needed quickly in Afghanistan, NATO's options were limited."
The president said he hoped NATO's newest members would bring a "freshness of perspective" that might be lacking in older members, such as Germany and France, which have been critical of American foreign policies recently.
"These are leaders for whom the totalitarian horrors of the 20th century are not things they read about in books, and not things their parents or grandparents told them, but things they, themselves, lived through in ways that were personal, upfront and occasionally very nasty.
"That experience brings a kind of wisdom and perspective, which is very useful for everybody in the alliance," the official added.


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