- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 (UPI) — The White House on Friday said the latest U.N. weapons inspectors' report did little to assuage its concerns that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is defying calls from the international community to dismantle his biological and chemical weapons programs.

"Nowhere did the world receive any comfort today in New York that Saddam Hussein has shown the inspectors that he has disarmed. Quite the contrary," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters during an early afternoon briefing.

The Bush administration was reacting to the report delivered to the U.N. Security Council in New York by chief U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei.

Blix, the chairman of the U.N. Monitoring, Inspection and Verification Commission, told the panel that his inspectors had not found any weapons of mass destruction, but that large quantities of banned chemical and biological agents remain unaccounted for.

The report comes as the United States has geared up for military action, moving more than 150,000 troops, together with planes and warships into the region — ready for an all-out assault on Iraq. But Fleischer said the administration's focus is not on starting a war, but rather on forcing Hussein into compliance with the U.N. resolution demanding disarmament.

"I think there is universal agreement that force is a last resort. That is absolutely valid for the United States, and the president remains hopeful that Iraq will indeed disarm and, therefore, avert the need for force to be used to disarm him," Fleischer said.

But he reiterated that the United States would use military force if it felt it was necessary, regardless of whether it was authorized by the United Nations.

Fleischer said the president listened for a short time to Blix delivering his report to the council before meeting with Turkish leaders visiting the White House. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice later briefed the president on the report, Fleischer told reporters.

U.N. Resolution 1441, adopted Nov. 7, 2002, states that Iraq "has been and remains in material breach" of its commitment to disarm and gives the Arab nation "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations." The resolution also established an inspection regime to bring Iraq into compliance.

The administration has been engaged in a campaign to convince world leaders that forcing Saddam into U.N. compliance was in the best interest of the world. Fleischer said Bush talked by telephone Friday with Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf and that both agreed on the need for Saddam to completely comply with the Security Council resolutions.

"President Bush stressed the need for the Security Council to act decisively and on as unified a front as is possible," Fleischer said.

The Bush administration has had difficulty drawing widespread support from other world leaders for military action. Britain, the United States' closest ally, has deployed troops in the support of potential action, but France and Russia — both veto wielding powers on the U.N. Security Council — along with Germany, say they want more time for inspections to work.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, addressing the Security Council Friday, maintained that, "the option of inspections has not been taken to the end," adding, "it can provide an effective response to the imperative of disarming Iraq."

"The use of force would be so fraught with risks for people, for the region and for international stability," he went on, "that it should only be envisioned as a last resort."

Spain has taken a hard line against Saddam, saying that it worries about weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists. Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar is expected to travel on Thursday to Crawford, Texas, to visit Bush on his ranch.

Germany and Spain sit on the U.N. Security Council — and Germany holds the rotating chair this month — but neither has a veto.

Even NATO remains divided on the issue and put off a meeting that was to be held Friday on whether to begin military planning for a possible war. Belgium, France and Germany have resisted U.S. proposals for NATO to deploy missiles and early warning planes into Turkey.

Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated the Bush administration position that Resolution 1441 was not about inspections, but about the disarmament of Iraq. He asked the council not to allow Iraq to prolong the process by stalling.

He pointed to the biological and chemical agents inspectors have not yet been able to account for.

"We haven't accounted for the anthrax. We haven't accounted for the botulinum, VX, both biological agents, growth media, 30,000 chemical and biological munitions. These are not trivial matters one can just ignore and walk away from and say, 'Well, maybe the inspectors will find them; maybe they won't.' We have not had a complete, accurate declaration. We have seen the reconstitution of casting chambers for missiles. Why? Because they are still trying to develop these weapons," Powell said.

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