Bush tells Saddam to obey U.N. or be forcibly disarmed
WASHINGTON — With a deadline days away, President Bush warned Saddam Hussein on Tuesday that “there’s no more time” and he must obey a U.N. demand to disarm Iraq.
If Saddam should ignore the ultimatum, “We will lead a coalition to disarm him,” Bush said. “The man must disarm. He said he would disarm; he now must disarm.”
“This kind of deception and delay — all that is over with,” the president said.
In renewing his warning about forcibly disarming Iraq, Bush scoffed at the Iraqi parliament’s recommendation that the unanimous resolution adopted last week by the U.N. Security Council should be rejected.
Bush called the assembly in Baghdad “nothing but a rubber stamp for Saddam Hussein,” and White House spokesmen said only the Iraqi president could decide whether to cooperate with the United Nations.
Even with the tough rhetoric, Bush administration officials were keeping their options open on what the response might be if Saddam were to reject the U.N. deadline.
“We will see what they will do,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said. “I don’t want to prejudge what the Security Council might do, what the United States might do in the absence of a positive statement.”
He said the deadline set by the council for Iraq to accept its terms and pledge to comply was intended as an “early indication” of Saddam’s intentions.
Some of the president’s advisers consider rejection a trigger for U.S. action, but others were not certain, White House officials said on the condition of anonymity.
The U.N. resolution does not deal specifically with consequences should Iraq say no, they said.
Iraq also is stockpiling supplies of antidotes to nerve agents, suggesting Saddam is trying to protect his armies if he uses such weapons on the battlefield, a Bush administration official said yesterday, also speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Iraq has imported significant quantities of the antidotes atropine and obidoxime chloride during the past two years, the official said, supporting a report yesterday in The New York Times. The administration is trying to stop future deliveries of the antidotes, but sanctions rules do not restrict them. Some of the imports have come from Turkey, a NATO ally supporting sanctions-enforcement flights over Iraq.
“We have talked to Turkey about procurements by Iraq,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. He said acquisition by Iraq of great quantities of antidote could indicate an intention to use chemical weapons.
Boucher said he could not confirm the report that Turkey was selling atropine to Iraq, and Turkish officials said in Ankara they had no knowledge of such transactions.
Gen. Tommy Franks, who would command any U.S. military action in Iraq, said yesterday it was up to Saddam whether Iraq’s disarmament would be voluntary or forced by the U.S. military. Franks said the military is methodically preparing for the possibility of war.
“We won’t be quick. We will be prudent,” Franks said.
“The president of the United States has not made a decision to go to war in Iraq,” the general said at a luncheon in Florida. “The president of the United States has made a decision that a continuation of cheat, retreat, fail to abide by Security Council resolutions … will not stand.”
Behind the scenes, Bush has approved tentative Pentagon plans for invading Iraq should a new U.N. arms inspection effort fail to rid the nation of weapons of mass destruction.
On the diplomatic front, Powell and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan conferred on a potential showdown with Iraq. At a joint news conference after the 40-minute State Department meeting, Annan said inspectors would head for Iraq on Nov. 18 to begin their work.
Annan, at a news conference in New York before going to Washington, said he was hoping for a positive response from Baghdad.
For Annan, how Iraq responds to the Security Council resolution is a test of the effectiveness of the United Nations.
U.N. chief inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency will take on the twin tasks of hunting for hidden chemical and biological weapons and for a nuclear weapons program.
They will set the pace of the search and could set the stage for war with Iraq if the inspectors conclude Iraq is concealing weapons.
Rolf Ekeus, the Swedish diplomat who led U.N. inspections after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, questioned whether the 60 days set aside by the Security Council — Dec. 23 until Feb. 21 — would be enough time to discover hidden weapons.
“I think the inspectors can find all the weapons,” Ekeus said yesterday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “but it will take considerable time.”
In 60 days “nothing substantially will be found,” Ekeus said at forum held by the private research group. “It might take two years.”
The State Department’s Boucher agreed that it would take “a very long time” to verify that Iraq had been disarmed. But he said Saddam’s intentions should become clear fairly quickly.
After Friday’s deadline for Iraq to promise cooperation, Iraq would be required to list all parts of its chemical, biological and nascent nuclear weapons program by Dec. 8. Weapons inspectors would have until Dec. 23 to resume their search for the first time in four years.