11 September 2001>News Stories>U.S. to Press Iraq to Let U.N. Inspect for Banned Arms

U.S. to Press Iraq to Let U.N. Inspect for Banned Arms
Patrick E. Tyler & David Sanger . NY Times . 01 December

A top State Department official said today that the United States was on "a roll" in its campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan and that President Bush intended to use the momentum to force Iraq to open its borders to United Nations inspectors looking for weapons of mass destruction.

At the same time, a senior administration official said that Mr. Bush's aides were looking at options involving the building up of opposition groups to President Saddam Hussein, but that such an initiative would take time to develop because "there isn't a ready-made opposition" now.

In an interview, Richard L. Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, suggested that military action against Iraq was not imminent and would come, if it did, at a "place and time of our choosing."

In a separate interview, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, said "there isn't any sense of timing" about when to force the inspection issue with Iraq. "Right now, getting Al Qaeda is more important," she said, referring to the campaign to destroy Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

"The fact is that we have Iraq on the radar screen," Ms. Rice said. "it was dangerous before Sept. 11 and it's dangerous now. But we are really very focused right now on phase I, on Afghanistan, and worrying about Al Qaeda cells wherever they might be."

The remarks from the senior officials were part of what has been a steady drumbeat of bellicose comments toward Iraq this week, including remarks by Mr. Bush that have cheered many conservatives and worried some European and Arab allies. A number of European leaders this week called on Mr. Bush not to pursue a precipitate military course against Iraq.

In the interview, Mr. Armitage said the administration was sensitive to concerns among the European and Arab allies that forcing a military confrontation with Iraq could sunder the antiterror coalition and possibly harm efforts to negotiate a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Other Arab leaders have also warned that a wider war in the Middle East will incite the imagery of a Western assault on Muslim countries.

Mr. Bush's comments on Monday that Mr. Hussein would find out the cost of continuing to refuse United Nations inspections reintroduced an issue that had been dormant for some time. It also raised questions as to whether he was broadening the American military mandate in the antiterror campaign to address the long-festering conflict with Iraq. But there was also speculation in diplomatic circles that he was trying to assuage influential figures in both the Republican and Democratic parties who have been calling for an aggressive policy aimed at toppling the Iraqi leader.

In the interview, Mr. Armitage said the president was engaged in a calculated effort to resurrect the issue of Mr. Hussein's compliance with United Nations resolutions that require him to submit to inspections. "The United States is on, thus far, a roll in Afghanistan," Mr. Armitage said, adding that "the president has put together a very mighty coalition" that he is intent on holding together. On the strength of the successes so far, he said, "the president made a statement" that was intended as a "signal to Saddam Hussein how he can lessen the pressure, and that is, `Let the weapons inspectors back in.' "

Asked why the administration had decided to raise an issue that had lain largely dormant in the United Nations Security Council for several years, Mr. Armitage said, "The president said it, so that's that it's back." He added, "I don't think there is any question that an Iraq with weapons of mass destruction is a threat to its neighbors and ultimately to ourselves, and so we will do what we need to do to obviate that threat."

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said on Thursday that reports that "something is on the verge of happening" militarily against Iraq "has no particular underpinning substance to it." Speaking to reporters at the State Department, he added,

A senior administration official said that there is no new intelligence indicating a higher level of threat from Mr. Hussein, but that "we know that he is the only modern leader who has used weapons of mass destruction, both against his own people and Iran."

That official said Mr. Bush's Iraq policy was focused on three elements: carry out a "smart sanctions" regime to address concerns for the people of Iraq while stanching the flow of dangerous technology to Baghdad; "looking at how we might use military power more effectively"; " and "looking at options involving opposition."

Since Sept. 11, the pressure to formulate a plan of action against Iraq has increased from members of Congress and other influential experts. R. James Woolsey, the former director of central intelligence, was enlisted by the Pentagon and Justice Department to fly to London to interview witnesses about possible Iraqi connections to the terror attacks on New York and Washington.

"If anyone, Jim Woolsey or anyone else, can find the evidence of an Al Qaeda connection with Saddam Hussein, no one in this administration would be disappointed at all," Mr. Armitage said.

Known for his bluntness and his close relationship with Secretary Powell, Mr. Armitage also signaled a willingness by the administration to re-examine Russia's growing arms sales relationship with Iran as well as Moscow's program to complete the first civilian nuclear power station in Iran.

While Washington remains concerned about the proliferation of some weapons and technology to Iran, Mr. Armitage said Iran's "peaceful use of nuclear power" could be tolerated as long as the safeguards to protect against the diversion of nuclear materials "are appropriate and are all inclusive."