Bush chides allies over Iraq 'lessons'

Sun National Staff

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration expressed frustration yesterday with several of its allies who want to allow more time for Iraq to disarm before the United States decides to wage war against Saddam Hussein's regime.

President Bush suggested that other world leaders had failed to learn past lessons about Iraqi deception, and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell asserted that United Nations "[weapons] inspections will not work."

Top administration officials vented their discontent a day after France signaled that it might veto any U.N. Security Council resolution calling for military action against Iraq very soon. France urged that the inspections, which began in November, be given more time. Germany, Russia and China also oppose an attack on Iraq and said the inspections must continue.

"This business about more time - how much time do we need to see clearly that he's not disarming?" Bush said of Hussein. "Surely our friends have learned lessons from the past. Surely we have learned how this man deceives and delays."

Bush argued that Hussein continues to ignore demands that he disarm. He also warned again that time was running out, but he gave no indication of when he might decide to launch military action.

On Monday, the U.N. inspectors are to issue their report to the Security Council. But the chief inspectors have indicated they need several more months to complete their work.

With growing signs of unease at home and abroad about a war against Iraq, the Bush administration is waging a campaign to show that it is running out of options to force Hussein to dismantle his programs for weapons of mass destruction, and that war looks increasingly likely.

"The danger is that people will just allow the process to drag on, and there will be no resolution," Powell said in an interview yesterday with several newspapers, including The Sun. "They have had a lot of time."

"The question isn't, 'How much longer do you need for inspections to work?'" the secretary of state said. "Inspections will not work. It's the skepticism that we've had all along."

His comments marked a personal shift for Powell, who, among top administration officials, had shown the most support for inspections. "What Iraq has to do is come clean - stop it," he said. "Stop the nonsense, stop the cheat-and-retreat, stop trying to figure out where the inspectors are going tomorrow morning, stop frustrating the [aerial] reconnaissance that we're trying to use."

Criticism for France

Powell chided France, whose foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, declared Monday at a news conference in New York that there was no justification yet for military action and hinted that France might wield its veto in the Security Council against any resolution authorizing force.

"I did not know that Mr. de Villepin would go out and let his press conference get totally devoted to [Iraq]," Powell said, adding that it "overwhelmed" a foreign ministers' conference on terrorism at the United Nations.

"It might have been better for the French to have not focused [the ministers' conference] that way," he said, adding that he had a "candid and honest and forthright exchange of views" by phone yesterday with his French counterpart.

In a continuing buildup of forces in the Persian Gulf, the Pentagon disclosed this week that the Army was sending its most modern combat division, the 4th Infantry Division, to the region, equipped with tanks, attack helicopters and artillery to confront enemy armored forces. The division heads a group of 37,000 soldiers ordered to reposition in the gulf region.

The Navy is dispatching an additional two aircraft carriers to the region - which are to arrive by early next month - to join two others now within striking distance of Iraq.

Administration officials portrayed Iraq yesterday as skilled in deception and suggested that other countries were ready to accept Baghdad's statements at face value to duck the conclusion that Iraq would never comply. Ari Fleischer, Bush's spokesman, spoke of the need to "put the spine into the United Nations and the rest of the international community."

The White House issued a 32-page paper titled "Apparatus of Lies" to describe a variety of Iraqi propaganda techniques used to persuade its own people and the world that it is a victim.

The document said that Iraq's pattern of deceit continued with last week's disclosure that 16 empty chemical warheads had been unearthed by inspectors, and with the "ongoing intimidation of Iraqi scientists through the regime's shifting position on private interviews with U.N. inspectors."

Delicate talks

The effort to spotlight Iraqi deception is intended to set the stage for a delicate negotiation between the United States and other countries after the two chief U.N. weapons inspectors, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, deliver their report to the Security Council on Monday.

Both men are expected to make the case for having more months to intensify the inspections process and document whether Iraq has continued its programs to produce nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The council is due to meet two days after Blix and ElBaradei deliver their report.

Bush will deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday, a day after the inspectors' report, and will underscore what he believes is the threat posed by Hussein's regime.

In a speech yesterday at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a government-funded Washington think tank, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage pressed the administration's case against Iraq. He mentioned "thousands and thousands of weapons, tons of materials and precursors and hundreds of key documents, including a credible list of Iraqi scientists that remain unaccounted for."

After suggestions made by administration officials over the weekend that Hussein might be lured into exile, allowing for a peaceful change of regime and disarmament, Powell hinted that the United States might back an amnesty for the Iraqi leader and his top aides.

"It's not for the United States to excuse anyone from international prosecution," Powell said. "But I think we would be receptive to anything that would get him and his family and his cohorts, the immediate group around him, out of power."

"There would be enthusiasm for such a deal, and enthusiasm tends to produce opportunities to encourage such an action," Powell went on. But he said he had seen no sign of such a deal being presented to Hussein.

Seeking to blunt accusations that the United States wants to control Iraqi oil, Powell asserted that if the United States led an invasion, Baghdad's oil industry and reserves would be held in "trust" for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

He did not exclude the possibility that some Iraqi oil revenues might be used to defray the humanitarian expenses incurred during a U.S.-led occupation of the country.

Powell acknowledged that "there is great unease in many places," including the United States, "about war and the consequences of war. But sometimes force is necessary to achieve a worthwhile purpose and to protect our country and to protect the world."

"We are reaching, getting closer to that moment of truth," he said.

Sun staff writer Tom Bowman contributed to this article.

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