President urges UN to stand up to Iraq
Makes promise of cooperation; details danger
By Anne E. Kornblut, and Elizabeth Neuffer, Globe Staff, 9/13/2002
NITED NATIONS -- President Bush, arguing his case against Iraq on the world stage for the first time, pressed for forceful international action yesterday and warned the United Nations that it "will be irrelevant" if it fails to stand up to Saddam Hussein.
Bush muted his administration's previous threats of unilateral US military strikes against the Iraqi government. He pledged to work with the international community, through the United Nations, toward neutralizing the Iraqi threat, acquiescing to European allies and congressional leaders who had feared that Bush would take a more solitary and aggressive stand.
But the president also told the multinational body that the United States was ready to take action if Hussein continued to defy UN resolutions for a return of weapons inspectors to Iraq and to destroy any chemical or biological weapons it possesses.
"Resolutions will be enforced . . . or action will be unavoidable," Bush said, addressing the UN General Assembly during its opening debates. "If Iraq's regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account. We will work with the UN Security Council for the necessary resolutions. But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted."
In an unusual move, Bush cited the 1993 Iraqi plot to assassinate his father as one of the reasons Hussein must be confronted, though he referred to the elder President Bush as simply "a former American president." White House officials said he declined to mention his father by name because Bush "doesn't want to appear to personalize this," though it was exceptional for him to raise such a personal issue at all.
Bush also presented additional reasons for pursuing his policy on Iraq. In addition to developing weapons of mass destruction, which is the offense usually cited by critics of Hussein, the Iraqi leader has also violated human rights, illegally kept prisoners of war, repressed his own people, and harbored terrorists, Bush said.
Though Bush did not lay out an exact timetable or propose a specific new UN resolution on Iraq, Security Council diplomats said yesterday they expect negotiations "to begin in earnest" next week over a draft resolution calling on Hussein to allow UN weapons inspectors to return.
Bush officials said their most important requirement for any such resolution would be that it "have teeth," implying that it should be backed by military force. Simply letting resolutions go unenforced, Bush said, would further erode the UN's credibility and defeat the purpose for which it was created after World War II.
"The conduct of the Iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the United Nations and a threat to peace," Bush said. "Iraq has answered a decade of UN demands with a decade of defiance. All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment."
The president also laid out additional demands for Iraq's government:
* It must immediately forswear weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.
* It must cease persecution of its people.
* It must release or account for all remaining Gulf War prisoners, including one American pilot.
* It must immediately end its illegal sales of oil.
From foreign diplomats to members of Congress, reaction to Bush's remarks was largely positive; skeptics of his previous comments said they were relieved that a public consultation will now take place.
Iraqi officials lashed out at Bush, accusing him of fabricating evidence.
Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad al-Douri, accused Bush of dodging America's real reasons for its hard-line posture towards his homeland, which he said were "revenge, oil, political ambitions, and also the security of Israel and targeting every independent state that would refuse to adhere to American policy."
Douri insisted that Iraq was ready to accept UN inspections, but he said that if the United States was going to attack Iraq, "certainly we would be there for defending ourselves."
The French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, said he will discuss a new French plan that would force Iraq to accept the return of inspectors at a meeting today with Security Council ambassadors and Secretary General Kofi Annan. The French plan would set a deadline for the return of weapons inspections and then, if that fails, allow the Security Council to take stronger action.
But it remains unclear whether Russia, a longtime ally of Iraq, would accept that or any other new resolution.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is slated to meet with foreign ministers of the four other permanent members of the Security Council today, a senior administration official said.
"We don't expect the process of coming to a resolution to take months," the official said. "It really shouldn't."
The Bush administration has more or less dismissed the effectiveness of weapons inspectors. Asked whether the administration has any expectation that Hussein will comply with a new inspections process, one senior official replied, "No, I don't."
In his speech, Bush cited several Iraqi violations of UN resolutions, in particular, that Baghdad is expanding its facilities for producing biological weapons and has built up a force of Scud-type missiles with ranges beyond the 150 kilometers permitted under UN regulations. Both examples, a senior administration official said, were obtained confidentially, but have been recently declassified, part of the new body of evidence the White House is compiling to bolster its case.
Bush is eager to appear cooperative and did not try to impose a remedy for dealing with Hussein, officials said. Bush "deliberately today did not lay out a road map or a mechanism, because he feels he has an obligation, now, to talk to the other members of the Security Council about how to do that," one official said.
In a further effort to appear cooperative, Bush also announced that the United States will rejoin UNESCO, which promotes cultural and educational awareness, after an 18-year absence to protest the group's management.
In a notably strong and candid prelude to Bush's remarks, Annan appealed to Iraq to accept the return of UN weapons inspectors. He called their return the "indispensable first step" toward assuring the world that weapons of mass destruction have been eliminated and achieving the suspension of UN sanctions against Iraq.
But Annan also cited the hazards of a unilateral US attempt to act on Iraq.
"Even the most powerful countries know that they need to work with others, in multinational institutions, to achieve their aims," he said. "And among multilateral institutions this universal organization has a special place."
In Washington, Democratic skeptics softened their criticism of Bush and said they would cautiously wait for the next step. "We support the president's approach to the UN," said Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, who has warned against moving too quickly on Iraq.
But a unilateral attack would be "a mistake," Kerry said. "You need to give the United Nations process a legitimate opportunity," and not simply make it "merely a pro forma step to an already determined" strategy, he said.
This story ran in the Boston Globe on 9/13/2002.
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