- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) — The Columbia space shuttle disaster has only momentarily sidetracked President George W. Bush and his administration from the crisis in Iraq, as preparations for an eventual war in the Gulf continue.

As Bush took time out from war planning on Tuesday to grieve for the fallen space heroes during a memorial service in his native state of Texas, the diplomatic ballet in Washington continued.

Following last week's frantic activity that brought Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal, Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair to the White House, this week was the turn of King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa, the ruler of the tiny Gulf island of Bahrain.

Bahrain, where large units of the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet are based, is a key ally in the coalition that Bush is working to cement, before an eventual invasion of Iraq becomes a reality. The Bahraini monarch, who came out with a strong statement of support of the American president's initiative, also conferred with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Bush has asked Powell to report to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, to present irrefutable proof that Iraq has been delinquent in respecting the guidelines set forth by U.N. Resolution 1441, calling for Saddam Hussein to reveal his secret caches of weapons of mass destruction.

Bush has reiterated that he has not yet made a decision to go to war, but has made it clear it is now a matter of weeks, and not months, before the clock runs out on Saddam and the military option is adopted.

Some observers are comparing the current dilemma in the Middle East to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when the Soviet Union deployed nuclear missiles on the Caribbean island only a few miles from the coast of Florida.

At the time, President John F. Kennedy — who agonized over the decision — was prepared to go to war with the Soviets. He dispatched Adlai Stevenson to the United Nations with photographic proof of the Soviet missiles.

During a now-celebrated heated debate, Stevenson asked Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin about the missiles on Cuba.

"Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the U.S.S.R has placed and is placing medium- and intermediate-range missiles and sites in Cuba? Don't wait for the translation! Yes or no?"

"I am not in an American courtroom, sir," Zorin responded, "and I do not wish to answer a question put to me in the manner in which a prosecutor does …"

"You are in the courtroom of world opinion right now," Stevenson interrupted, "and you can answer yes or no … I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over, if that's your decision. And I am also prepared to present the evidence in this room."

The Soviet ambassador did not answer, and Stevenson proceeded to show the reconnaissance photographs of the Soviet missiles to a stunned audience.

In 1962, the United States lucked out: The Soviets blinked first and removed their missiles, avoiding a confrontation between two nuclear-capable nations that could have had catastrophic consequences for all sides.

Now, more than 40 years later, the question worrying war planners at the White House and the Pentagon, as well as the public at large, is will Saddam blink and reveal his weapons of mass destruction in time to avoid a renewed conflict, or will he drag the United States and the world into another war?

While the military buildup around Iraq in preparation for war — a war that many people now believe is inevitable — continues, so does the diplomatic bustle around the White House in a last bid to avoid this war. Yet it seems as though the president is convinced that there is no other avenue left than the one leading to war, no matter what the outcome of the U.N. fact-finding mission.

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