- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2002

PITTSBURGH The White House yesterday dismissed an apparent softening of Iraq's stance on U.N. weapons inspectors while denying reports of an administration rift on how to confront Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"Iraq changes positions on whether they'll let the inspectors back in more often than Saddam Hussein changes bunkers," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said.
"Every day, you get a different story out of Iraq. They don't have a history of reliability," Mr. Fleischer told reporters aboard Air Force One on a presidential trip to Pennsylvania.
Earlier yesterday, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz had backed off previous rejections of U.N. weapons inspectors, saying Iraq would consider the checks part of a larger resolution of issues between Washington and Baghdad.
"Let us solve the problem comprehensively," Mr. Aziz told reporters in Johannesburg, where he was attending the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development. "We would consider this issue within the context that I mentioned, with the comprehensive settlement."
In other worldwide reaction yesterday to the dispute between the United States and Iraq:
Russia warned against using force against Iraq but stopped short of saying it definitely would veto any U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing an attack. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Moscow hopes that "the issue will not go before the Security Council in the form" of a request to authorize the use of force.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela said in Johannesburg before a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac that he was "appalled" by U.S. threats of military action and said that "we condemn that in the strongest terms."
The White House, meanwhile, rebuffed widespread media reports that Vice President Richard B. Cheney and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell had publicly disagreed on the issue of U.N. weapons inspectors.
"They haven't spoken differently; they've spoken the same," Mr. Fleischer said. "I think this is much ado about no difference."
Mr. Powell and Mr. Cheney gave conflicting signals in recent days over the merits of resuming U.N. inspections for weapons of mass destruction inside Iraq.
Mr. Cheney said a return of inspectors would "provide false comfort that Saddam was somehow back in his box." He added that it would merely give the Iraqi dictator more time to "plot," while providing "no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with U.N. resolutions" against Iraqi acquisition of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Mr. Powell, however, said a resumption of inspections, which were halted in 1998, would be a positive step.
"The president has been clear that he believes weapons inspectors should return," Mr. Powell said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.
"Iraq has been in violation of these many U.N. resolutions for most of the last 11 years or so [since the Persian Gulf war]. So as a first step, let's see what the inspectors find, send them back in."
Yesterday, Mr. Fleischer portrayed the sentiments of the two men as complementary, not contradictory.
"Saddam Hussein needs to live up to the commitments he made at the end of the Gulf war," he said. "Those commitments included making certain that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, and that means having weapons inspectors there.
"Now, will weapons inspectors alone guarantee that he doesn't have weapons of mass destruction?" he added rhetorically. "That's why the secretary said it's a first step."
Mr. Fleischer was pressed on whether Mr. Cheney agrees with Mr. Powell on the value of resuming weapons inspections.
"Arms inspectors in Iraq are a means to an end," he said. "But the end is knowledge that Iraq has lived up to its promises that it made to end the Gulf war, that it has, in fact, disarmed, that it does not possess weapons of mass destruction."
The spokesman said this "consistently" has been "the president's position, the vice president's position, the secretary's position."
Meanwhile, two of the nation's top newsmagazines ran conflicting accounts in their latest issues on whether Mr. Cheney's speech had President Bush's sanction.
Time magazine, quoting an aide to Mr. Cheney, said the vice president's speeches were approved in advance by Mr. Bush, with the president making additions and deletions. But Newsweek said Mr. Bush was told nothing about the language on inspections.
"The president said, 'I want you to include the following,'" Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. told Newsweek. "We knew the gist, but not every word."
Asked whether the president had ordered the inspections language, Mr. Card said no. Mr. Cheney did not repeat the language in another tough speech on Iraq three days later.
Some foreign leaders yesterday seemed to back Mr. Powell in the widely reported rift. German Defense Minister Peter Struck said that the retired general's views on Iraq left him alone in the U.S. foreign policy team.
"It can be concluded without doubt that Powell is isolated in the president's top advising team," Mr. Struck told Germany's N-TV news channel. The minister repeated Germany's view, using language that resembled Mr. Powell's, saying the first step to resolve the U.S.-Iraq standoff should be the return of inspectors.
Mr. Mandela said in his denunciation of U.S. military action that he has tried, unsuccessfully, to speak to Mr. Bush by telephone and instead spoke to Mr. Powell.
Mr. Ivanov said at a Moscow news conference alongside his visiting Iraqi counterpart, Naji Sabri, that the Kremlin also wants weapons inspectors to enter Iraq as soon as possible.
Mr. Ivanov restated Russia's position that "any use of force would not only complicate a settlement in Iraq, but also seriously undermine what is already a difficult situation in the [Persian] Gulf and the Middle East." But he parried a direct question on whether Russia would veto a U.S. attempt to authorize the use of force against Iraq.
"We hope that the issue will not go before the Security Council in the form you have put it and a Russian veto will not be necessary," he said.
The Kremlin's foreign-policy chief said the Russians "have not found a single well-founded argument in these statements demonstrating that Iraq represents a threat to U.S. national security."
He said the statements of administration hawks were "political in nature."
Mr. Aziz also upped the ante, saying he would meet today with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and seek an end to U.S. "threats of war" and a restoration of full Iraqi sovereignty as part of any "comprehensive" settlement to allow in weapons inspectors.

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