U.S., Britain develop inspections strategy
|||Poll shows Hawai'i favors war only with U.N. support|
By Robin Wright
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON The United States and Britain have mapped out a strategy that will attempt to limit arms inspections in Iraq to no more than an additional six weeks, according to U.S. and British officials.
An Iraqi man opens the top of his tanker truck for a U.N. inspector. U.S. and British officials want to limit inspections to an additional six weeks.
President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair also agreed Friday that Britain will take the lead in trying to broker language with France that would allow another U.N. resolution on Iraq acceptable to Washington and London, British sources say.
"I believe there will be a second resolution," Blair told reporters en route home to Britain.
"I think it will be very plain to people whether Saddam is cooperating or not in the next few weeks. If he does not comply, we have to act," Blair said Saturday.
The timing and substance of a second resolution have been key sticking points between the United States and countries such as France and Russia that have opposed imminent military action. A compromise on a second resolution would address strong public opposition to the idea of military intervention without international backing a key to easing the opposition of foreign leaders.
So far, some Security Council members have insisted not only that a second resolution is needed to justify war but also that one should be considered only after inspections have continued for an unspecified but significant period. Washington would prefer a resolution soon that declares Baghdad to be in final material breach of the U.N. requirement that it disarm. That would give the United States its strongest justification for military intervention.
If there is no acceptable compromise, the administration would proceed on the basis of past resolutions.
Previously, Washington has been tepid about opening the door to discussion of a second resolution. Officials fear negotiations might drag on, as they did for two months last fall on the resolution that forced Iraq to readmit weapons inspectors.
The Bush administration has also feared that taking up a second resolution could become a source of further divisions and possibly lead one or more of the five permanent Security Council members to use its veto.
Now, however, Washington and London are confident that they can get a compromise second resolution in acceptable form, sources say.
Blair will hold talks early this week with French President Jacques Chirac to try to work out a compromise, British officials say. The two leaders have some room to maneuver, these officials say, but not much.
After the Columbia disaster, the diplomatic ice was broken somewhat Saturday when Chirac called Bush to express condolences. Both men talked of the strong historical bonds between their nations, and they agreed to talk further about Iraq this week.
Discussions about a second resolution also might occur while Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is in New York to present U.S. intelligence on Iraq to members of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday.
One proposal circulating in New York would label Iraq's 12,000-page arms declaration incomplete and inaccurate and say the Baghdad regime is not fully cooperating with inspectors a statement on which the Security Council is in accord, according to French sources.
Flush with new European support and preparing to offer evidence to the United Nations, the Bush administration believes international momentum is shifting in its favor.
"Things are moving our way. It's possible to find common ground, but others are going to have to come to us. And if they have something pretty good, we'll listen. But we don't need to look back, and we won't," said a U.S. official at the United Nations.
"We're not going to get into the position of negotiating," the official added, "or they'll keep us over a barrel for weeks."
Several developments over the last week have prompted a shift in attitude, U.S. officials and Iraq experts say. Those include the U.N. report last Monday on Iraq's incomplete disarmament, a letter of support from eight European leaders Thursday and hawkish new language from Powell.
The letter signed by the leaders of Britain, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Italy, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Hungary changed the diplomatic dynamics, according to State Department officials.
"The letter was a huge boost. And the fact that Powell, once known as the most reluctant about war, has become a hawk and is now leading the American charge makes the U.S. case seem more convincing. His conversion tips the balance," said Henri Barkey, a former State Department policy planning expert on Iraq and now chairman of international relations at Lehigh University. "The sense that we're now in the final stage also generates a certain amount of momentum."
At the same time, the administration's confidence could make it vulnerable to raised expectations, Barkey added.
Powell's presentation to the Security Council on Wednesday is an "unbelievable gamble," especially if there is no dramatic major revelation to prove that Saddam is still producing or concealing weapons of mass destruction, said Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA analyst and Bush and Clinton administration national security staffer.
"If Powell presents good evidence, he'll hit the jackpot and dozens of countries will support the U.S. But if he lays a goose egg because the evidence isn't very convincing, it will pull the rug out from under the administration and they'll see support rapidly drain away, making it very hard to pull together a coalition for war," Pollack said.