U.S. Sets Late January Decision on Iraq War (WASHINGTON POST) By Walter Pincus and Karen DeYoung 12/19/02 Page A01)
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The Bush administration has set the last week in January as the make-
or-break point in the long standoff with Iraq, and is increasingly
confident that by then it will have marshaled the evidence to
convince the U.N. Security Council that Iraq is in violation of a
U.N. resolution passed last month and to call for the use of force,
officials said yesterday.
In a boost to the administration´s position, Hans Blix, the United
Nations´ chief weapons inspector, plans to tell the Security Council
today that Iraq failed to account fully for chemical and biological
bombs and warheads it had assembled as well as materials it bought
that could be used to produce more of them, U.N. and administration
After Blix offers his preliminary assessment in New York of the arms
declaration that Iraq submitted 10 days ago, Secretary of State Colin
L. Powell plans to deliver the administration´s reaction at the State
Department in which he will declare that Iraq failed to fully
disclose its past and present weapons programs, officials said.
In disclosing their plans, administration officials offered the
clearest timetable to date of how they would like to see the
inspections process brought to a head. They are pointing to Jan. 27,
when Blix is scheduled to make his first substantive report to the
Security Council on Iraq´s weapons declaration as well as the Baghdad
government´s cooperation with inspectors already on the ground and in
making Iraqi scientists involved in banned weapons programs available
for interviews with U.N. officials.
That date falls within the late January to early February window U.S.
military planners have said is the optimum moment to launch an
invasion of Iraq.
Administration officials said that waiting until late January, rather
than pushing for the Security Council to declare Iraq is in material
breach of the resolution based on the arms declaration alone, will
suffice to demonstrate the United States´ commitment to an
international approach to ridding Iraq of its long-range missiles and
chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.
The additional month, officials said, will also provide enough time
to put together a case against Baghdad that Iraq will not be able to
refute and even the most skeptical Security Council members will be
unable to ignore. President Bush has made clear that he is prepared
to move militarily against Iraq, with or without the United Nations,
once the case has been made.
Powell said yesterday that other Security Council members share the
U.S. assessment that the Iraqi declaration contains "troublesome"
gaps and omissions. Once Blix and Mohamed El Baradei, head of the
International Atomic Energy Agency, make their report today, he
said, "we´ll . . . work with our partners in the Security Council to
determine the way to go forward."
"We are not encouraged that [the Iraqis] have gotten the message or
will cooperate, based on what we have seen so far in the
declaration," Powell said. "But we will stay within the U.N.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday that "the United
States will continue to be deliberative in this matter, but this was
Saddam Hussein´s last chance." Noting Bush´s Sept. 12 speech to the
U.N. General Assembly in which he challenged the world body to
confront Iraq on its outlawed weapons programs, Fleischer said, "I
think it´s important to allow a process that the president asked to
begin, to take its course."
Senior administration officials have decided that the best way to
hold the coalition of countries opposed to Iraq together is to permit
the U.N. inspections to continue, officials said, because they are
convinced Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will never disarm or provide
the details being sought on his weapons programs. They also believe
that once a system is worked out in which the U.N. inspectors begin
making requests to interview Iraqi scientists or technicians outside
the country, Hussein may block the process and create a direct
material breach of the U.N. resolution. The resolution spelled out
procedures for conducting the interviews.
In his presentation today, Blix plans to go down a list of unanswered
questions raised in 1999 by the report of the previous U.N. weapons
investigators, including Iraq´s failure to account for tons of the
nerve agent VX and the precursor materials to make more, U.N. and
U.S. officials said. He also plans to list 550 artillery shells with
mustard gas, 157 bombs that at one time were filled with either
anthrax or other biological agents, and a number of warheads that
showed traces of VX.
The Swedish diplomat is particularly concerned with Iraq´s failure to
deal with these matters because he and El Baradei had specifically
warned Iraqi officials in Baghdad last month that they should go
through their records on these weapons. "They at least expected
Saddam Hussein would toss them a bone and instead they didn´t even
get a crumb," one U.N. official said yesterday.
In 1995, after denying in 1991 it had any biological warfare program,
Iraq admitted it had produced 166 R-400 bombs that were filled with
biological agents including anthrax spores. It also said that during
the Persian Gulf War in 1991 the bombs were taken from military
facilities and buried at two locations, one along the Euphrates River.
When the war ended, the Iraqis said they destroyed all the bombs by
blowing them up at two separate sites. While they described in detail
the manner of the destruction, they never produced documents on who
ordered or carried out the destruction.
A senior Iraqi official recently told the U.N. inspectors that it was
a great mistake to have "obliterated" records of the nation´s
biological weapons program, officials said.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw joined Powell and Blix yesterday
in questioning the Iraq report. "There are some obvious omissions,"
Straw said, citing failing to include "large quantities of nerve
agent, chemical precursors and munitions" that had been disclosed in
the 1990s. "It seems that Saddam Hussein has decided to continue the
pretense that Iraq has had no WMD [weapons of mass destruction]
program since [the previous U.N. inspectors] left in 1998," he said.
The State Department´s top liaison with the U.N. inspection agencies,
John S. Wolf, the assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation,
made a similar case in meetings in Washington yesterday with some of
the 10 nonpermanent members of the Security Council before he left
for New York last night to meet with El Baradei.
French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, on a trip to Qatar in
the Persian Gulf region, told reporters that judgment on Iraq´s
declaration should await results from the U.N. arms inspectors. "The
ball is now in the court of the inspectors and it is their duty to
evaluate the document and check on whether Iraq has any weapons of
mass destruction," she said.
At the United Nations, Syria´s deputy U.N. ambassador, Fayssal
Mekdad, returned the excised copy of the Iraqi arms declaration given
to his government. "Either we take a full copy or we don´t take
anything," he said.
At the Bush administration´s request, the Security Council´s current
president, Alfonso Valdivieso of Colombia, decided that the 10
nonpermanent members of the body should receive excised copies of the
declaration on the grounds that some material could contain
information on building weapons of mass destruction.
As a result, the U.N. inspectors removed almost 8,500 pages of the
original 12,000 supplied by Baghdad in the copies turned over to the
nonpermanent members, while only the council´s five permanent
members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China --
received the full copy. Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United
Nations contributed to this report. (© 2002 The Washington Post
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