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Iraq Special Report

  Administration Weighs Steps in Case U.N.-Iraq Deal Doesn't Satisfy U.S.

By Dan Morgan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 23, 1998; Page A15

Having assembled a mighty force to strike Iraq, Clinton administration officials yesterday began grappling with the potentially awkward question of how to react if a United Nations-brokered diplomatic deal with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein meets some, but not all, U.S. demands.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright received a "short but not comprehensive briefing" from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on arrangements that he worked out during two days of intense negotiations with Saddam Hussein and top Iraqi officials, according to a State Department spokesman. "We're awaiting the details before we can discuss them," he added.

Despite assurances from an Annan spokesman in Baghdad that the agreement was "positive," the absence of specifics gave rise to concerns within the administration that Annan might have agreed to conditions on further access to suspected Iraqi weapons sites that will be unacceptable to the United States.

President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke by telephone twice yesterday and agreed "there can be no concessions" to Iraq over weapons inspections, according to a British spokesman.

In a series of appearances on weekly television interview shows, top Clinton administration officials stressed repeatedly that Saddam Hussein must allow "full and unfettered access" to Iraqi sites by qualified U.N. inspectors, without conditions and with no limits on the number of visits. Any deviation from this requirement, which is written into U.N. resolutions, would be unacceptable and would leave the military option open, they indicated.

"He [Saddam Hussein] has to back down," Albright said on ABC's "This Week." "There's no question. He has to reverse course."

But Albright also acknowledged that "it is possible that [Annan] will come back with something that we don't like, in which case we will pursue our national interests."

Such an outcome, sources said, could be the worst possible one for the Clinton administration, further eroding international support for U.S. military action while deepening a split over Iraq policy at home.

The Clinton administration already must balance a complex -- and conflicting -- mix of domestic and foreign pressures as it weighs its next steps in Iraq. Administration sources said yesterday the job could be made even more difficult if Annan returns with "a deal that gets us 95 percent of the loaf."

Administration officials worry that such a result could make it far more difficult diplomatically for the United States to defend airstrikes against Saddam Hussein's regime, yet could enable him to continue hiding his weapons of mass destruction, or even free him to rebuild his arsenal after the immediate threat has passed.

Internationally, only Britain and Australia have joined the U.S.-led military buildup in the Persian Gulf. Clinton enjoys considerable support at home for strong military action against Iraq, but a Newsweek poll released yesterday showed minimal support for limited airstrikes. Thirty-nine percent favored the diplomatic approach.

The divisions in U.S. opinion were made plain to Clinton yesterday when he and Hillary Rodham Clinton attended services at the Foundry United Methodist Church here. Inside, Bishop Felton E. May urged the president to face up to "the bullies of the world." But when the Clintons walked out, several dozen protesters chanted, "Mr. Bill, thou shall not kill."

On "This Week," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) expressed regret that the U.S. government had "set up this scenario that the secretary general of the United Nations is making those decisions, de facto, as you see. . . . The reality is that if the secretary general comes back and says, 'This is a good agreement, and one that we can live with,' and it's not one that we can live with, it makes it much, much more difficult, to say the least."

It was also clear yesterday that the widened U.N. role over the last few days carries potential political dangers for Clinton.

"It is ridiculous for us to make a serious matter of national interest hostage to negotiations conducted by the secretary general of the United Nations," said William Kristol, a conservative commentator who was chief of staff to then-Vice President Dan Quayle. "Nothing good is going to come of this. Saddam Hussein is going to win a very big victory this week."

Kristol said that "if Kofi Annan is going to serve as secretary of state of the United States, the president should nominate him for the position, and the Senate should confirm him."

McCain, apparently referring to conservative critics of the United Nations, also said the administration's handling of the Annan mission to Baghdad "gives credence to many friends of mine who believe that the United States may be subordinating its power to the United Nations."

But Albright denied the Annan mission had disrupted U.S. policy.

"It is my understanding [that Annan] will come back and report to the Security Council, and then the Security Council will discuss it. We obviously have a veto there. And we are part of that process. If we don't like it, we will make that very clear," she said.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, on NBC's "Meet the Press," said it would be "counterproductive" for the United States to accept any conditions on U.N. inspectors as part of a broad diplomatic agreement.

"I think what we have to have is a record that is set that shows that he is going to fully comply with the resolutions," he said. "The process has to go forward with competence, expertise, no undermining of its ability and not allowing Saddam Hussein to dictate who's going to be on that [inspection] team."

National security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, on "Fox News Sunday," said the United States would keep its forces in the region "until there was an opportunity to verify whether or not the access that he had acceded to was in fact available to the inspectors."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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