- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

President Bush yesterday met with the United Nations' top weapons inspector as the White House applied a full-court press to extract a resolution against Iraq from the U.N. Security Council.
The president's White House meeting with inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was a sign of increasing involvement by Mr. Bush as the administration attempts to force a U.N. vote on an Iraq disarmament resolution.
At the White House, Mr. Bush made clear that he wants Mr. Blix and his team to have maximum authority to search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, unlike previous inspectors who were hamstrung by President Saddam Hussein's forces.
"The inspectors don't want to be the cat in the cat-and-mouse game," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "They don't want to get run around.
"They want to be able to go in and do their jobs and disarm Saddam Hussein," he said. "In order to secure the peace, they have to have the ability to do their job."
Mr. Blix said the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council agree with the White House on this point.
"There is probably a very strong opinion in the General Assembly and the council that they would not tolerate any cat-and-mouse games," he told reporters after returning to U.N. headquarters in New York. "And we would also report anything that we would perceive being cat-and-mouse games."
Mr. Blix, who also met with Vice President Richard B. Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, supports the president's call for strong language in a resolution that could trigger military action against Baghdad if Saddam is found in "material breach" of international demands.
Russia and France, both of which can veto any Security Council measure, have objected to such strong language.
At the United Nations yesterday, both countries softened their resistance to key language in the U.S. draft resolution, moving the council closer to agreement on a new resolution for Iraqi arms inspections.
"I think the gap is extremely close, but there is still back and forth between Washington and Paris," said a key council diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The council met behind closed doors for three hours yesterday in a bid to narrow the gulf that divides the United States and Britain from other members who oppose endorsing force if Iraq fails to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors.
The present American draft threatens "serious consequences" if Iraq is found to be in "material breach" of council resolutions two phrases that are commonly interpreted as authorizing the use of force if the resolution's terms are not observed.
Russian and French ambassadors told the council yesterday they had no objection to the words "material breach," providing the phrase was not understood as automatically justifying force.
In outlining Russia's remaining "problems," Deputy U.N. Ambassador Gennady Gatilov said that "as it appears in the preamble, it would be regarded as automatic use of force. The text should be clear that there will be no automaticity.
"Evidently it should be more than clear, otherwise all the paragraphs will be vague and they could be interpreted differently by different sides if the matter comes to a real use of force."
The Americans listened to council members' concerns, diplomats said, and promised to return with updated language. No new meetings on Iraq have been scheduled, according to diplomats, many of whom said they no longer expect a vote before the U.S. elections Tuesday.
"We now have their ideas. We'll take it all into consideration," said Deputy U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham, striding briskly from the council chambers. He declined to say when the changes would be circulated.
In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said, "We are narrowing the differences" and that he expected the U.N. debate to wind up next week.
But, Mr. Powell added, "The United States cannot find itself handcuffed to an extended debate in the presence of a new Iraqi violation and new Iraqi material breaches."
On the inspections themselves, Mr. Blix disagrees with Mr. Bush's insistence on the right to remove Iraqi scientists and their families to another nation in order to interview them about weapons programs without fear of reprisal.
Mr. Blix has also balked at the president's demand for a full accounting of weapons within 30 days of the resumption of inspections, saying it might take longer.
Still, he is closer to the position of the White House than Russia or France, giving the administration an important boost as it ratchets up pressure on the Security Council.
"I think there is an anticipation on the American side that the resolution will be adopted very soon on the question of Iraq," Mr. Blix said.
"The president wanted to tell us that the United States wants to pursue a peaceful path and is hoping that the Iraqis will cooperate in that," he said. "And he also wanted to assure us that the United States' support is fully behind the inspection effort."
Meanwhile, the White House suggested Saddam and his top lieutenants might be tried as war criminals for gassing their own people, invading Kuwait and pursuing weapons of mass destruction.
"Certainly, the atrocities that have been committed are serious, and I don't think the world is interested in looking the other way," Mr. Fleischer said. "I think it's fair to say if the regime is changed, the world has shown in the case of Slobodan Milosevic an interest to do justice."
Mr. Milosevic, the deposed Serbian leader, is on trial in the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. He is accused of inciting a variety of wars and atrocities, including a massacre of the Muslim populace of Srebrenica, during the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Also yesterday, the Pentagon kept up pressure on Iraq by preparing to move its stealth bombers closer to the Gulf region.
The Air Force B-2 Bomber Wing began practicing Tuesday for the deployment to the British-held Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia and an air base at Fairford in England, said Col. Doug Raaberg, commander of the 509 Bomb Wing.
Putting just two B-2s closer to the Gulf will enable U.S. forces to fly 12 stealth bomber missions for every one that could be flown from Whiteman Air Force base in Missouri.
Betsy Pisik contributed to this report from the United Nations in New York.

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