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White House: Iraq War Qualms Soften
Mon Sep 9, 9:09 PM ET
By SCOTT LINDLAW, Associated Press Writer
The White House said international opposition to military action against Iraq ? at least as a last resort ? is softening as more world leaders have said Saddam Hussein ( news - web sites) cannot be allowed to snub U.N. weapons inspectors.
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Officials from France, Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands denounced Saddam in exceptionally blunt terms Monday, and some allies said military action cannot be ruled out if Bush works through the United Nations ( news - web sites) to confront Saddam.
The comments, a subtle but potentially significant shift in tone among wary U.S. allies, came as senior administration officials said Bush planned to urge the U.N. on Thursday to demand that Saddam open his weapons sites to unfettered inspections or face punitive action.
In his address Thursday to the U.N. General Assembly, Bush is not expected to set a deadline nor spell out the consequences ? leaving the finer points to U.S. and U.N. diplomats who may produce a formal resolution ? but his address will make it clear that military action will be taken if Iraq doesn't comply, officials said.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush is convinced Saddam will provoke military action.
Bush's case was bolstered by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London group that issued a report saying Iraq could build a nuclear weapon in a few months if it obtained radioactive material. It warned, too, of Saddam's powerful arsenal of chemical and biological weapons.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri called such claims "false pretexts, false accusations" designed to turn the world against Iraq.
White House aides said that while few allies are fully behind Bush, the comments of world leaders in recent days suggest the debate has shifted from a question of whether the United States should confront Saddam to a matter of how it should be done.
U.N. inspectors trying to determine whether Iraq possesses biological, chemical or nuclear weapons left Iraq in 1998 and have been barred from returning despite several U.N. resolutions. Bush intends to tells world leaders the relevancy of the U.N. is at stake as he seeks to disarm Saddam.
"It does appear that a movement is budding to put some force to previous U.N. resolutions," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer ( news - web sites) said.
"It's clear that both the Congress and the U.N. are returning to an issue that had not gotten sufficient attention in recent years, and now some muscle looks like it's being put at least rhetorically into the deliberations of the world's leaders," he said.
Fleischer did not offer an examples, but Bush advisers privately said the president was pleasantly surprised by a proposal from French President Jacques Chirac.
Chirac suggested a three-week deadline to allow the return of U.N. weapons inspectors. If refused, a second resolution to use military force would have to be passed.
Bush appreciated the talk of a quick deadline, one adviser said.
White House officials took note of remarks by other world leaders, including:
_Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende said Iraq should accept weapons inspectors and military action should be used as a last resort.
_Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark's prime minister and president of the European Union ( news - web sites), called Saddam a "mad dictator." U.S. officials said Rasmussen made it known he might support the concept of "coercive inspections." Under that concept, also being considered by Bush, Iraq would be forced to open suspect sites; thousands of American or multinational troops would be deployed in or near Iraq to launch an attack if inspectors were denied.
_The head of NATO ( news - web sites)'s panel of military chiefs said the threat of military force should not be ruled out as a last resort.
_The Vatican ( news - web sites)'s foreign minister warned of the consequences of war, but seemed to leave the door open to action sanctioned by the U.N.
Bush pressed his case in a face-to-face meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien while the pair promoted safe-border initiatives in Detroit.
He also telephoned President Ahmet Necdet Sezer of Turkey, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan ( news - web sites), Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ( news - web sites), Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson and Denmark's Rasmussen.
Chretien said Bush did not seek Canada's support.
"I want him to go and have an international coalition with the U.N. and go and convince other countries through the United Nations," Chretien said.
Chretien said he pressed Bush for evidence linking Saddam with al-Qaida, the terrorist organization headed by Osama bin Laden ( news - web sites).
"They are not relating it to al-Qaida at the moment," Chretien said.
Bush foreign policy advisers continued a blitz of TV interviews to make the president's case.
Vice President Dick Cheney ( news - web sites), in an interview with Fox News Channel, warned terrorists: "You'd be wise to hang it up ? go find other employment. The United States is deadly serious about winning the war on terror ... and if that means, as it probably does, using our forces to do so, we're prepared to do that."
He did not specifically mention Saddam, though White House officials said he probably had the Iraqi leader in mind.
At a conference in Washington on U.S.-Arab relations, Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces in the region, said more than 4,000 U.S. troops are in Kuwait "to prevent miscalculation by a regime that has flouted Security Council resolutions from the first, in 1991."
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