U.S., Russia differ over next step with Iraq

By Charles J. Hanley
Wednesday September 18, 2002


UNITED NATIONS — As U.N. weapons inspectors moved ahead with plans to return to Iraq, the United States and Russia clashed on Tuesday over whether to take Baghdad at its word or impose a new ultimatum. “We have seen this game before,” said a skeptical Colin Powell. 

The secretary of state reaffirmed Washington’s call for a tough anti-Iraq resolution by the U.N. Security Council, despite Iraq’s sudden about-face on inspections. 

But Russia’s foreign minister said he saw no immediate need for new U.N. demands if the inspectors are quickly dispatched. He was backed up by Arab leaders, Moscow’s traditional allies. The “logic of war” may now be replaced by “the logic of peace,” said one. 

The 15-member Security Council majority decided, despite a U.S. request for more time, to quickly schedule a meeting, possibly Wednesday, with chief weapons inspector Hans Blix to discuss renewed inspections. The Americans, supported by Britain and Colombia, wanted first to prepare a new resolution, diplomats said. 

Blix then met with Iraqi representatives, after which the Iraqis announced talks were set for Sept. 27 to make final plans. 

In the Middle East, the business of preparing for war went on, as American warplanes flew under aggressive new rules over Iraq, and U.S. commanders considered basing heavy bombers closer by. 

At a U.N. news conference at which Powell and Russia’s Igor Ivanov laid out conflicting views, Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed for them to stick together on Iraq. 

This is “the beginning, not an end,” he said. “We should try to maintain the unity of purpose that has emerged.” 

The Security Council then went into closed-door consultations on a timetable for dealing with the fast-changing Iraq issue. 

The council sent weapons inspectors into Iraq after the 1990-91 Gulf War, to ensure that President Saddam Hussein’s regime destroyed any chemical or biological weapons it possessed, and any capacity to produce those or nuclear weapons. 

The inspectors left in 1998, ahead of U.S. airstrikes, amid Iraqi allegations that some were spying for the United States and countercharges that Baghdad wasn’t cooperating with the inspection teams. 

The international “unity of purpose” Annan cited emerged after President Bush, in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly last Thursday, forcefully called for the Security Council to threaten action against Iraq if it did not allow the inspectors back. 

If the world body didn’t act, Bush made clear, Washington would feel free to launch a military attack. 

Bush’s was the opening move in what may become a high-stakes diplomatic chess game.