- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

JOHANNESBURG The United States has agreed to pursue a new effort at international consensus-building before any attack on Iraq, European and Turkish officials said after meeting yesterday with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
Mr. Powell sought to downgrade the importance of weapons inspectors returning to Iraq, telling U.S. reporters they "perhaps" could play a role in averting armed intervention.
Inspections are "an issue, but not the primary issue," he said after a series of meetings with foreign leaders attending the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development.
But other leaders emerged from meetings with Mr. Powell believing they had a commitment to work for the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq before military action was taken.
"There is agreement between the [European Union] and the United States that here and now we should concentrate our efforts on ensuring that international weapons inspectors can get free and unrestricted access to Iraq," Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after a meeting with Mr. Powell.
Mr. Rasmussen, whose country holds the European Union's rotating presidency, told reporters that Mr. Powell had "underlined that the United States attached the strongest importance to involvement of the international community in this Iraq case."
He said he thought it was "of vital importance to pursue the U.N. track."
The Associated Press reported from Washington that President Bush was "strongly considering" a U.N. Security Council resolution that would set a deadline for Iraq to open its weapons sites to unfettered inspection.
Such a resolution would imply but not spell out any punitive action so as to avoid a veto by China or Russia, said one of three officials who confirmed the president's thinking, the AP said.
But Mr. Powell said the United States would not rule out an attack on Iraq even if it did allow inspectors back into the country. Inspectors have been barred since pulling out of Iraq ahead of allied air strikes in 1998.
As if to emphasize the American threat, the U.S. Navy has booked a large ship to carry tanks and heavy armor to an unspecified Middle Eastern port in the Persian Gulf this month, Reuters news agency quoted shipping sources as saying yesterday.
U.S. defense officials played down the shipment, saying it was designated for a military exercise in the Gulf region. But it is the third such shipment of arms and military hardware in a month using commercial shipping.
War preparations were also under way in Israel, where officials had told emergency and security services to complete preparations by early November for any Iraqi retaliation against a U.S. assault, Ha'aretz newspaper reported.
EU foreign ministers plan to discuss a plan with Mr. Powell in New York for a Security Council resolution demanding that Iraq unconditionally admit weapons monitors, European diplomats told Reuters.
Reuters said the plan, discussed at a weekend meeting in Denmark, had helped the EU members narrow their internal differences by shifting the focus from regime change to the return of the inspectors.
However, at least one of those differences grew even wider yesterday when German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder bluntly declared that his government would not tone down its opposition to military action and would not "submit" to Washington.
Responding to comments a day earlier by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had declared that the United States "should not have to face this issue alone," Mr. Schroeder said Mr. Blair did not speak for all of Europe.

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