BAGHDAD, Iraq — An Iraqi vice president offered a unique solution to the U.S.-Iraq standoff: a duel between George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein.
Taha Yassin Ramadan said the duel could be held at a neutral site and with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as the referee.
Ramadan, wearing a green uniform and a black beret, made his remarks without giving any outward sign that he was joking although reporters who were present detected a note of irony in his voice.
“A president against a president and vice president against a vice president and a duel takes place, if they are serious, and in this way we are saving the American and the Iraqi people,” Ramadan told the Associated Press Television Network.
Iraq has two vice presidents, and Ramadan did not say whether he or Taha Muhie-eldin Marouf would take on Dick Cheney.
At the White House, press secretary Ari Fleischer saw no humor in Ramadan’s remarks.
“There can be no serious response to an irresponsible statement like that. I just want to point out that, in the past when Iraq had disputes, it invaded its neighbors. There were no duels, there were invasions. There was use of weapons of mass destruction and the military; that’s how Iraq settles its disputes,” Fleischer said.
Ramadan also said that his government was not concerned by U.S. lawmakers’ support of a congressional resolution that would authorize President Bush to use military force against Iraq.
“We pay no attention to this issue,” he said, adding that approving such a resolution “makes no difference” to Iraq.
Ramadan criticized U.S. efforts to delay the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq until the Security Council adopts tougher measures that would give the inspectors broad new powers to hunt for weapons of mass destruction and provide them with military backing.
He said such efforts were aimed at “hampering the inspection process.”
“They (the Americans) were surprised by the agreement reached by Iraq and the United Nations. So their reaction was unbalanced,” he said, referring to the deal in Vienna on Tuesday between Iraq and chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix.
Under the agreement, Iraq agreed to an unconditional return of the inspectors under the existing U.N. Security Council resolutions and a 1998 agreement that put the so-called presidential sites — including Saddam’s palaces — off-limits to surprise visits.
At the United Nations, the United States was pursuing a tough resolution that would end the exemption for those sites, give Iraq 30 days to compile an “accurate, full and complete” inventory of all aspects of its weapons programs — and provide U.N. inspectors military backing to carry out their search.
But the three other veto-wielding members of the Security Council — Russia, China and France — have said they are not ready to authorize force before inspectors have time to test Iraq’s willingness to comply.