Bush hints at military action if Iraq refuses to allow arms inspections


WASHINGTON -- President Bush, hinting anew at possible military action against Iraq, refused yesterday to ease the pressure until Baghdad demonstrates that it will allow unfettered international surprise inspections of its weapons programs.

"If he assumes that he can get away with this kind of thing, he's just as wrong today as he was on August 2nd . . . when he sent his forces into Kuwait," Mr. Bush said of efforts by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to keep his nuclear-weapons program under wraps.

Iraq's foreign minister told U.N. envoys yesterday that inspectors would be allowed today to see the nuclear enrichment equipment that Iraq allegedly has been hiding, but the United Nations team was skeptical, the Associated Press reported from Baghdad.

"The proof is in the pudding," said Rolf Ekeus, chairman of the U.N. Special Commission set up to oversee the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. "We will wait until we see it."

Earlier yesterday, the State Department reported little progress in the U.N. team's efforts to make sure that Iraq will allow the inspection and destruction of its weapons programs, which include nuclear, chemical and biological arms and missiles. The team is due to leave Iraq today.

"What we've got to have is evidence that full inspection on challenge will be granted," Mr. Bush said, referring to the U.N. demand that Iraq allow surprise inspections.

"He [Mr. Hussein] has to make this right and satisfy us, or we'll figure out what else happens," the president said.

Asked whether there were a possibility of renewed military action by the U.S.-led coalition that defeated Iraq in the Persian Gulf war, he replied: "I just keep resisting saying what we will do or what we won't do. But you've seen speculation, and I'll just steer you that it's not all warrantless.

"I'm very interested in getting the views of other world leaders, and the diplomacy leading up to that has already started."

On other foreign-policy questions raised during a news conference at his vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine, the president:

* Held open the possibility of calling a Mideast peace conference, even if all the participants have not agreed on its procedures beforehand, or of at least revealing the proposed U.S. format for a peace conference.

"I owe it to the American people and I think the people around the world to say, 'Hey, here is what the United States thinks is a good formula.' "

So far, Israel has balked at U.S. proposals for a modest U.N. role. Syria, the other major player, has not replied.

* Said he will not demand an Israeli settlements freeze as a "quid pro quo" for massive loan guarantees to help the absorption of Soviet Jews.

At the same time, Mr. Bush made an earnest plea to Israelis to "do what you can to see that that policy of settlement after settlement is not continued. It is counterproductive.

"We're not giving one inch on the settlements question."

He said Israel had made a commitment at one point not to build further settlements. Israeli officials denied any such commitment but insisted that they are honoring a pledge made last year not to direct immigrants into the oc

cupied territories or to use U.S.-guaranteed loan money to build new housing beyond the 1967 borders.

* Declared that he hoped to persuade Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev at a superpower summit that "their military has nothing to fear from us" and that therefore the Soviets should cut their defense spending.

Mr. Bush said the urgency of a U.S.-Soviet summit had not been diminished by plans for Mr. Gorbachev to attend the mid-July London economic summit, where the two presidents plan a two-hour lunch July 17.

"I want to sit down over a period of time with him to really in-depth discuss issues," Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Gorbachev does not intend to come to the economic summit "hat in hand" in hopes of substantial Western aid, Mr. Bush said, resisting the argument that the summit would be branded a failure if Mr. Gorbachev came away empty-handed.

* Defended Kuwait's imposition of martial law after the gulf war, saying he was told "that martial law was essential if they were going to go in and disarm the people that had been helping the enemy. I can understand that."

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