- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

LAJES AIR BASE, Azores President Bush stood shoulder to shoulder yesterday with his staunchest allies against Iraq and declared today "the moment of truth," angrily issuing an ultimatum to the United Nations to act immediately or move aside.
"Tomorrow is the day that we will determine whether or not diplomacy can work," the president said at a terse press conference yesterday with the prime ministers of Britain, Spain and Portugal, which were host to the 11th-hour summit at a U.S. air base on this archipelago in the east Atlantic Ocean.
"Many nations have voiced a commitment to peace and security, and now they must demonstrate that commitment to peace and security in the only effective way: by supporting the immediate and unconditional disarmament of Saddam Hussein. … We hope tomorrow the U.N. will do its job," Mr. Bush said.
Despite the ultimatum, France reiterated yesterday its plan to veto any proposal authorizing force in Iraq and insisted that Saddam, the Iraqi leader, receive more time to disarm. Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix was preparing a plan that would prolong inspections for several months.
Yesterday, French President Jacques Chirac suggested giving Saddam 30 more days to comply with U.N. disarmament resolutions.
But in appearances on yesterday's political talk shows, both Vice President Richard B. Cheney and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell echoed the president's message that diplomacy is near an end.
"There is no question we are close to the end of the diplomatic efforts," Mr. Cheney said on NBC, and on CBS he said: "We're approaching the point where further delay helps no one but Saddam Hussein."
"We have had timelines. We have had deadlines. We have had benchmarks. The problem is, Iraq is not complying," Mr. Powell said on ABC.
Hours after Mr. Bush spoke, the State Department announced it had ordered nonessential diplomats and all embassy dependents out of Kuwait, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Syria because of the threat of war with Iraq.
"The decision to move to ordered-departure status is a result of an overall assessment of the security situation in the region due to the threat of military action in Iraq," the department said in separate but identically worded statements.
The State Department also warned U.S. citizens against traveling to the locations, and it cited the possibility that Iraq or "terrorist organizations" would use chemical or biological weapons should war break out.
The Security Council scheduled a closed session today at 10 a.m.
In Iraq, Saddam said that if Iraq is attacked, it will take the war anywhere in the world "wherever there is sky, land or water," and Foreign Minister Naji Sabri ridiculed the remote location of the Azores summit as emblematic of the "isolation Bush and Blair have put themselves in as a result of their war plans."
In the last-minute summit on this island, the three leaders spoke rarely of their joint sponsorship of a Feb. 24 U.N. Security Council resolution, the 18th concerning Iraq, that sets a deadline of today for Saddam to disarm.
"Win, lose or draw, the diplomatic process ends tomorrow," National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday in the Azores, referring to the joint resolution.
Although supporters are on the verge of collecting the necessary nine votes to pass the resolution, France has vowed to veto any proposal that authorizes the use of force, a stance Mr. Chirac reiterated yesterday in an interview aired on CBS' "60 Minutes."
He said U.N. weapons inspections should continue as long as the inspectors say there is cooperation and progress.
"One month, two months, three months I don't know, but as long as the inspectors tell us that, there's no reason for us to change," he said.
Throughout yesterday's brief news conference, the three leaders referred 10 times to U.N. Resolution 1441, passed in a 15-0 vote Nov. 8, offering Saddam one last chance to disarm.
At one point, Mr. Bush angrily yanked out a translation earpiece and said, his voice rising: "The United Nations Security Council looked at the issue 4 months ago and voted unanimously to say, 'Disarm immediately and unconditionally, and if you don't, there are going to be serious consequences.'
"The world has spoken, and it did it in a unified voice," he said, adding, "sorry," before giving the floor to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Senior adviser Karen Hughes and speechwriter Michael Gersen accompanied the president on the trip, fueling speculation that a national address by Mr. Bush as early as today, administration officials said would serve as an ultimatum to Saddam.
About 270,000 U.S. and British troops in the region, including more than 1,000 tanks and six U.S. aircraft-carrier battle groups, stand ready to attack.
Voicing the unified message of the three leaders, Mr. Blair said it is their "responsibility to uphold the will of the United Nations" in what "we believe to be the best interest of the U.N." If the three do not enforce Resolution 1441, the United Nations will continue with "perpetual negotiation" and "endless discussion."
"Some say there should be no ultimatum, no authorization of force in any new U.N. resolution instead, more discussion in the event of noncompliance. But the truth is that without a credible ultimatum authorizing force in the event of noncompliance, then more discussion is just more delay, with Saddam remaining armed with weapons of mass destruction and continuing a brutal, murderous regime in Iraq," Mr. Blair said.
Twelve years and 17 resolutions prove that Saddam will continue to "play games" and comply with U.N. demands only when backed against a wall, he said.
"We have provided the right diplomatic way through this, which is to lay down a clear ultimatum to Saddam: Cooperate or face disarmament by force. And that is entirely within the logic, the letter, the spirit of 1441," Mr. Blair said.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who, like Mr. Blair, faces growing public dissent at home over the prospect of war, said the three nations have their "own responsibility to make U.N. resolutions be abided by."
"If the Security Council unanimously adopts a resolution, Resolution 1441, giving one last opportunity to disarm to someone who has weapons of mass destruction and we know he has used them, the Security Council cannot, one year after the other, wait for its resolutions to be implemented.
"That would be the best way to do away with it altogether. And it could do away with all the United Nations' credibility," Mr. Aznar said.
All three leaders also rebuked France for its unilateral decision to reject any proposal that calls for military intervention against Saddam.
Mr. Bush said France "showed their cards."
"They said they were going to veto anything that held Saddam to account. So cards have been played."
Mr. Blix suggested that Mr. Bush and his chief allies had diverging agendas.
"On the one hand, Bush seems to be talking mainly about how to liberate Iraq and make sure they have no weapons left there, while Blair and Aznar, on the other hand, are giving more weight to having a last chance to unite the world and give Saddam an ultimatum," Mr. Blix said in a Swedish television interview.
Mr. Blair said that months ago Saddam filed a 30,000-page "declaration" of his weapons that analysts say is rife with falsehoods and omissions.
"After over 4 months since we passed Resolution 1441, we're now three months on from the declaration that Saddam on the 8th of December that not a single person in the international community not one believes was an honest declaration of what he had," he said.

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