- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

President Bush has decided to wage war against Iraq within a matter of weeks, not months, if it does not disarm, and he is starting a final round of urgent consultations with allies for support, U.S. officials said.
The Pentagon has a "tentative agreement" with Turkey on basing air and ground forces there to facilitate invading northern Iraq, a senior administration official said in an interview yesterday. Although the deal falls short of all the assets the United States sought, "we're learning to like it," the official said.
Mr. Bush has decided to begin lining up such allied nations even before Secretary of State Colin L. Powell makes a final presentation of evidence against Iraq to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday.
The president also began a push to convince skeptical Democrats in Congress. Mr. Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and a CIA official gave a closed-door presentation of evidence to about 100 House members yesterday. The proof included links between Iraq and Osama bin Laden's terrorist group.
"The connections to terrorist networks and al Qaeda are becoming more definite," Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a liberal New York Democrat, said after the presentation. "They have concrete evidence."
Mr. Powell, meanwhile, for the first time offered to help find a nation in which Saddam Hussein could live in exile.
"If he were to leave the country and take some of his family members with him and others in the leading elite who have been responsible for so much trouble during the course of his regime we would, I'm sure, try to help find a place for them to go," he said. "That certainly would be one way to avoid war."
But because that scenario is considered unlikely, Mr. Bush is pressing ahead to lobby world leaders for military support. The consultations begin today when he meets with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the White House. They continue tomorrow when Mr. Bush welcomes British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Camp David.
Mr. Blair told British lawmakers yesterday that although no specific link had been established between Iraq and the September 11 terror attacks, "we do know of links between al Qaeda and Iraq."
Other leaders are expected to arrive soon afterward. At the same time, members of the president's national security team will fan out to urge various nations to live up to their international responsibilities.
"We think the time for diplomatic action is narrowing. The diplomatic window is closing," said John D. Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. "We feel that the time for decision-making is fast approaching.
"We don't have a specific timetable in mind, but the situation is urgent, it is pressing. The window is closing in on us."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer sounded a similar theme, saying that "we're entering the final phase" and only a narrow "diplomatic window" remained.
The last time Mr. Bush gave someone a timetable of "weeks, not months" was Sept. 12, when he exhorted the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution against Iraq. The council complied in slightly less than two months, an interval the White House is not willing to wait this time.
The president, instead, appears willing to refrain from war for no longer than about a month. That is a marked departure from his stance before the State of the Union address Tuesday. He had long refused to put a timetable on compliance by Saddam.
The shift comports with a Sept. 20 report in The Washington Times that U.S. military planners were focusing on February as the optimum time to begin a war. On Jan. 20, The Times quoted defense sources as saying that Feb. 21 to 28 was the optimum window to initiate a military campaign that the United States would rather not fight in the stifling heat of Iraqi spring and summer.
"We're not going to talk about the military losing their edge," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters yesterday. "There are obviously some times that are better than others, but we make judgments and rotations and plans and contingencies to deal with those things."
Although Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Powell did not specifically discuss timetables in their meeting with House members, participants were left with the distinct impression that a showdown is fast approaching.
"The Iraqis are not disarming, and I think at this point the administration is determined to move ahead," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
"They're simply making the case now to the U.N. to try to pick up those states which are close to being with us and genuinely want to see a little more evidence," he said in an interview. "I don't think they're looking for a consensus."
Another member of the committee, Rep. Curt Weldon, called the briefing "very thoughtful."
"I'm convinced that the presentation by Colin Powell at the U.N. will make the case beyond a doubt that Saddam Hussein has to go," said the Pennsylvania Republican. "If he doesn't go voluntarily, he will go in whatever way it takes."
Mr. Weldon said that he plans to introduce a resolution calling on Saddam to be tried as a war criminal. As evidence, he will cite U.N. reports on Saddam's brutality and torture of ordinary Iraqis, he said.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, suggested that the administration would move forward unless Saddam has "a complete change of heart and a spiritual experience" within "the next week or so."
Democrats, meanwhile, introduced two resolutions yesterday designed to put obstacles before any war decision.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, introduced one to force the president to seek U.N. authorization before going to war, while Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, introduced another requiring Mr. Bush to seek new approval from Congress.
"I believe the Senate has a duty to speak to the issue of war with Iraq, and I believe the United States has a duty under international law to work within the structure of the United Nations charter," Mr. Byrd said.
But Republicans said the resolutions are likely never to get to a vote, and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said the September resolution giving the president authority to use force in Iraq means that "Congress has spoken, and its message could not be clearer."
Mr. McCain said that he expects Mr. Bush would receive the same amount of support if the issue were debated again, but he said that risks "sending a signal that the American people are not united."
Mr. Powell will present to the Security Council on Wednesday an even more detailed body of evidence than what the congressmen heard yesterday.
By dispatching Mr. Powell to the world body for a previously unscheduled meeting, the president is seizing control of the timetable in an effort to prevent an endless series of interim U.N. reports by weapons inspectors. The meeting will make up the final pre-war consultation envisioned in the U.N. resolution in November.
Mr. Powell plans to argue that failure to confront Iraq will effectively strip the council of its authority. Mr. Bush yesterday reminded an audience in Michigan that he had to goad the United Nations into action back in the first place.
"I wanted the United Nations to be something other than an empty debating society," he said, sparking laughter.
The administration does not believe it needs a second U.N. resolution explicitly authorizing war, although it has not ruled out such a scenario. A decision on a second resolution is expected to be reached in talks with allies in the coming days and weeks.
The White House hopes that those weeks will buy Mr. Bush some good will from critics who have been counseling patience. But the administration also is wary of Saddam pulling a last-minute stunt to court international sympathy.
It is possible, for example, that the dictator could announce just before the war starts that he has suddenly found the weapons programs that inspectors have been seeking. He could even say that he has executed officials who ostensibly concealed the information from him, the administration fears.
Bush officials were heartened by the tentative agreement with Turkey, a launch point that is a critical aspect of the war plan. It gives U.S. Central Command a northern front, as ground troops also invade from Kuwait in the south and possibly from Jordan in the west.
Officials have said the war's time span can be cut significantly if an invasion force can put immediate pressure on Saddam from all sides.
Rowan Scarborough, Bill Gertz and Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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