WASHINGTON -- The United States and its allies are developing plans to strengthen international inspections and intelligence gathering on Iraqi nuclear-weapon materials in response to continued efforts by Baghdad to hide them, U.S. and diplomatic officials say.
The proposals include making inspection teams from the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency bigger and equipping them with helicopters and fast-moving vehicles to help them keep pace with any Iraqi movements of nuclear material. Another plan calls for increased aircraft monitoring, which would supplement satellite surveillance.
Possible military action, either to destroy Iraqi nuclear sites or to deliver a warning to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, is not excluded.
Expressing frustration over Iraq's continued failure to "come totally clean" on its nuclear program, President Bush said Wednesday, "What we want to do is set up a mechanism so whenever there's any evidence of intelligence that is even a hint of his violation of these U.N. resolutions, we must be satisfied, the international community must be satisfied, the U.N. must be satisfied that that equipment has been destroyed."
As the monitoring ideas are being developed, the Pentagon is expected today to announce a rapid-reaction force based in Turkey. Combined with numerous U.S. combat planes based in the region, the new unit would be able to respond to a renewed Iraqi crackdown on Kurds in northern Iraq.
The new proposals are being discussed between U.S. officials and members of the U.N. Security Council in New York and are likely to be developed further next week when Mr. Bush meets with allied leaders in Europe.
In a telephone call yesterday with British Prime Minister John Major, Mr. Bush "stressed that we continue to press Iraq for full compliance with the U.N. resolutions," White House spokesman
Marlin Fitzwater said.
"He emphasized that we expect Iraq to fully implement the promises in its 29-page letter to the U.N. and to allow appropriate U.N. inspections" of its nuclear facilities, Mr. Fitzwater said.
Iraq submitted a document to the United Nations this week giving a more complete list than it had of its nuclear equipment, but the United States said it still contained omissions.
Intelligence gathered since the Persian Gulf war has disclosed that Iraq possesses about 30 devices, called calutrons, that offer a crude way of enriching uranium. How much enriched uranium had been developed is not known, although some reports say Iraq has enough for one or two bombs.
U.S. officials believe that a more intensive search is needed not only to track down Iraq's nuclear equipment and uranium, but also to find out how far it has come toward designing a nuclear bomb.
While there is debate on whether an additional Security Council resolution is required for a beefed-up inspection regime -- beyond the cease-fire resolution requiring Iraq to disclose and destroy all its weapons of mass destruction -- some officials believe that it would be useful at least as a warning to Iraq.
"Maybe it would be worth having another resolution just to hit the Iraqis square in the eyes," a European diplomat said yesterday.