- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) — The U.S. State Department said Wednesday that should the United States decide to take military action against Iraq, other nations would support the action despite initial disagreement over the issue.

The State Department's assessment came hours after France and Germany pledged to work together to prevent the war.

"We believe that, should we decide it necessary to use military force, … there would be other governments, other countries that might want to join us in that," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a briefing in Washington.

"But at this point, … we have not made a decision on military action," he added.

Referring to the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Boucher said the United States believes "this dictator … would continue to be able to develop the wherewithal to attempt to dominate and intimidate a vital region of the earth" and this, he added, "affects not only our national interests, but the interests of many other nations, including those who are there."

Boucher, however, assured the international community that Washington would consider all consequences before deciding to launch a military offensive against Iraq.

He said Washington was not surprised by a joint declaration by France and Germany, which said that they need more time to determine if Iraq really has the banned weapons and that every avenue should be explored to avoid war.

"We're quite familiar with their views. We've discussed it. We've had some back-and-forth with them, and we've said, 'well, let's look honestly at the reports on Monday and address — continue to address — these issues.' So the views themselves are not any particular surprise," said Boucher.

Despite the State Department's effort to present a positive picture of the Iraqi situation, Washington's effort to win over international support for the expected military offensive against Iraq appears to have run into trouble.

France and Germany don't see war as the only option. Turkey is reluctant to allow U.S. troops to use its territory for an action against Iraq. Despite strong support from the government, opposition to war is also growing in Britain. And massive demonstrations have been held in the United States against the war.

So far the most worrying for Washington is the hint from the French that they might use its Security Council veto to prevent a U.N. resolution supporting war. France is one of the five permanent members of the council.

In his remarks Wednesday in St. Louis, President George W. Bush addressed the growing international opposition to the war when he declared, "It's time for us to hold the world to account and for Saddam to be held to account. … We must not be fooled by the ways of the past."

Without naming France — which is urging Washington to give more time to U.N. inspectors — Bush said that the delay would only benefit Saddam who would use this time for giving "the so-called inspectors more runaround."

But it's not just America's allies who are reluctant to support the military offensive. A recent survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reveals that the Bush administration may face a major challenge in winning public support for the use of force if U.N. weapons inspections do not yield evidence that Iraq has been hiding weapons of mass destruction.

More than half — 53 percent — of the respondents said the president has not yet explained clearly what's at stake to justify war.

Bush's Iraq stance is also facing criticism from Democratic lawmakers who were previously silent on the issue.

On Tuesday, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said that North Korea's intention to make weapons of mass destruction was more dangerous than that of Iraq.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Wednesday that Bush would commit a huge mistake if he went ahead with the war "without the support of America's allies."

But so far the criticism has not had much impact on the Bush administration. At the State Department briefing, Boucher urged the international community to realize that Saddam would not disarm until he was forced to do so.

"In sum, Iraq is failing to disarm," he said. "We need to face these facts. We need to deal with this reality and not pretend that inspectors can disarm Iraq while Iraq is actively blowing smoke and hiding its programs."

However, he said Jan. 27 — when U.N. inspectors are expected to present their report on the Iraqi weapons — was not a trigger for war or a drop-dead date.

"It's an important date to listen to the inspectors, to see what they report, and to focus on the question of whether or not Iraq is disarming peacefully," he added.

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