Support for U.S. Stance on Iraq Grows
By Thomas W. Lippman and Bradley Graham
In a message particularly welcome in Washington, eight Arab countries issued a statement holding Iraq responsible for the looming crisis. "Iraq must heed U.N. Security Council resolutions and abide by them all to avoid military confrontation," said the statement by Egypt, Syria and six gulf states.
Along with a conspicuous absence of diplomatic maneuvering by key Security Council members that have opposed military action in the past, such as Russia and France, the Arab statement heartened U.S. officials who are preparing for what they said would be major, punishing strikes if President Clinton decides to launch them.
Clinton called the leaders of Germany, Sweden and Belgium yesterday. "What we hear in these calls is a united international community," said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart.
On a visit to Norfolk, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told reporters that no time frame had been decided for any military strikes, but he left open the possibility that an attack could begin at any time, noting that the United States already has a major force in the gulf aside from the warplanes and naval carrier group now heading to the region.
The extra troops and equipment will amount to a doubling of U.S. firepower there. Yesterday, 12 giant B-52 bombers began moving from bases in Louisiana and North Dakota to the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. Other aircraft are due to depart in the next few days. The Pentagon raised the total number of planes in the new deployment from 129 to 139, saying yesterday that it had failed to include a group of refueling aircraft in its announcement Wednesday.
For several reasons -- including Clinton's trip to three Asian countries next week, a desire to give diplomacy a last chance and the time required to get more troops in place -- some officials said it is likely that airstrikes are at least 10 days away.
Cohen said he had seen no willingness on the part of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein to back away from an Oct. 31 decision to end all cooperation with U.N. weapons inspections prompted by Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
At a news conference in Norfolk aboard the Navy helicopter carrier Bataan, Cohen reiterated that the aim of U.S. military action would be to "degrade" Saddam Hussein's ability to threaten his neighbors or produce chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott indicated that if the president does order a military campaign, it will include follow-up action aimed at breaking Saddam Hussein's grip on Iraq. "Without going into detail, I can tell you we have thought well beyond hour one, day one, week one," Talbott said after a speech at the Brookings Institution.
Despite statements in Baghdad blaming the United States for the crisis, Iraq appeared to be increasingly isolated in that view. "What you're seeing is, from around the world, a clarion call on Iraq to change course because the whole world sees Iraq to blame and Iraq as being responsible for the current crisis," State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said.
Congress is not in session, but a handful of senior members offered initial expressions of strong support for possible military action.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, supports airstrikes and said they should be followed by a broader military assault, including the use of ground troops and piloted aircraft as well as missiles, to drive Saddam Hussein from power.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), the ranking Democrat on the foreign relations panel, also expressed support for the use of force, saying failure to do so "will only embolden Saddam to take an increasingly more aggressive posture on production of weapons . . . and threaten his neighbors again." Biden also urged a sustained effort to "dethrone him over the long haul."
"The diplomatic options have pretty well run their course," said Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (Ind.), the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee. "Whether or not force is used is now up to Saddam Hussein."
In an effort to "refine the options," National Security Council spokesman David Leavy said Cohen met at the White House last night with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger. Earlier, the State Department issued an unusual "worldwide caution," urging Americans abroad to "maintain a high level of vigilance" and a low profile and to check with U.S. embassies for news on security conditions. It said the warning was designed "to reflect the potential for retaliation in light of the tensions with Iraq."
Staff writer Helen Dewar contributed to this report.
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