President Bush said here today that continuing denials by President Saddam Hussein's government that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction "will not be tolerated" and that "delay and defiance will invite the severest of consequences."
Referring to a Dec. 8 deadline for Iraq to declare the extent of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, set in a Security Council resolution passed Nov. 8, Bush said Hussein "has been given a very short time to declare completely and truthfully his arsenal of terror. Should he again deny that this arsenal exists, he will have entered his final stage with a lie."
Bush's comments came in a speech on the eve of a two-day NATO summit that is expected to add seven new East European members to the 19-nation North Atlantic alliance and adopt new strategies to face post-Cold War threats, including what Bush called "the unique and urgent threat posed by Iraq." Although Iraq is not formally on the agenda, the Bush administration hopes NATO "will be able to express some solidarity on Iraq in some form" in the documents and communiques that emerge, a senior U.S. official said.
Administration officials declined to further explain Bush's remarks on the required Iraqi declaration, saying questions about what the United States would or would not do if it believed Iraq had not been truthful were "hypothetical." But the issue appeared likely to become the next tripwire for U.S. consideration of military action -- and for possible disagreement within the U.N. Security Council.
The unanimous Nov. 8 resolution said omissions or false statements in the declaration would constitute a "material breach" of Iraqi obligations. Such breaches were to be immediately considered by the council, which would then decide what consequences Iraq should suffer, including a possible military attack.
A number of council members, along with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, have said an Iraqi declaration cannot be judged until facts on the ground are determined by inspections that will begin early next month and take months to complete. The United States, however, has its own intelligence information on the Iraqi weapons programs. Blix has asked all U.N. members with such information to turn it over to him.
The council has already moved close to the brink of controversy over what should trigger a war with Baghdad. The Bush administration contends that Iraqi attacks on U.S. and British aircraft patrolling the "no-fly" zones there constitute a material breach of the resolution. Most council members, and Annan, disagree; the administration has for the moment decided not to press the issue.
The Bush administration has asserted a right to act against Iraq with or without council approval. In a news conference after a meeting with Czech President Vaclav Havel, Bush said that if Hussein does not disarm, "the United States will lead a coalition of the willing to disarm him. And at that point in time we will consult with our friends, and all nations will be able to choose whether or not they want to participate."
"If the decision is made to use military force," Bush said, "we hope that our friends will join us."
More than half of Bush's 50-minute meeting with Turkish President Ahmet Sezer was devoted to Iraq, a Turkish source said. Turkey, which shares a lengthy border with Iraq, has said in the past that it opposes military action to oust Hussein. But the administration hopes the newly elected government in Ankara will be more willing to consider U.S. requests for assistance, with inducements including help for Turkey's financial difficulties and backing for its desire to join the European Union.
Although Bush made no specific request during the meeting, the source said that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who are here with Bush, would hold additional meetings with their Turkish counterparts.
Sezer emphasized Turkey's desire that the issue be resolved through the United Nations, as well as Ankara's concern that war could result in a breakup of Iraq that could entice Turkey's Kurdish minority to join with Iraqi Kurds in seeking a separate state, the source said, adding that Bush guaranteed that Iraq would remain intact.
A senior Bush administration official who briefed reporters declined to discuss specifics of the conversation.
Bush will hold talks Thursday with French President Jacques Chirac, who played the leading role in pushing the administration to modify its U.N. resolution, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has been Bush's strongest backer on taking a tough line against Iraq. No bilateral meeting is scheduled with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who angered the administration during the recent German election campaign by criticizing its stand on Iraq and saying Germany would not participate in any U.S. or even U.N.-backed military action.
An informed source said Havel offered, during his meeting with Bush, to rearrange the seating chart during summit sessions so that Bush and Schroeder could sit together. Bush declined, saying he eventually wants to repair the U.S.-German relationship but felt personally insulted by Schroeder, the source said.
In what were widely interpreted as references to Germany, Bush said in his speech today that European nations will each "determine their place" in the changed world of the 21st century. "They will take up global responsibilities, or choose to live in isolation from the challenges of our time."
Referring to the "new capabilities" NATO leaders are expected to approve at the summit, including a joint 21,000-troop rapid reaction force and "niche" capabilities that will assign specializations to different members, Bush said: "Security against new threats requires more than just new capabilities. Free nations must accept our shared obligations to keep the peace."
Asked if Germany was among the 50 or so countries where Washington recently asked U.S. embassies to solicit support for possible military action against Iraq, a senior administration official said: "We are certainly conducting our business with Germany based on its standing as a major ally and a major and important country. So I cannot imagine that if such contacts were made, that Germany would never been sent a letter."
The administration billed today's speech as Bush's "strategic vision for NATO" and described it as a follow-on to his address on NATO delivered in Warsaw in June 2001. Both emphasized transatlantic unity and expansion. Today, however, Bush put an additional spin on the subject in the wake of last year's Sept. 11 attacks, saying new East European members are better able to understand threats posed by the nexus between international terrorists and hostile nations with weapons of mass destruction.
NATO's first expansion in its half-century history came in 1997, with invitations to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Seven new members are expected to be approved here in Prague, two of which -- Lithuania and Romania -- Bush will visit before returning to Washington late Saturday. The others are Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Slovakia. Bush will also stop briefly in St. Petersburg to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Havel, in a separate speech today, agreed that NATO "inertia must be resisted before it is too late." Expansion into Eastern Europe, he said, "represents an unmistakable sign that the alliance is not merely a club of Cold War veterans slightly apprehensive of the mystifying developments in post-Communist countries."
But Havel said NATO has "logical boundaries," and warned against expansion outside of what he called "a very specific sphere of civilizations that has been commonly referred to as Euro-Atlantic or Euro-American, or simply as the West."
Havel also had some advice for the current members of the club. Referring to a series of European clashes with the Bush administration, including over Iraq, he said that "Europeans should be more conscious of the roots and the type of American responsibility" in preserving peace and freedom "and, if necessary, show a certain amount of understanding for the occasional insensitivity, clumsiness or self-importance that may come with this responsibility."
For its part, Havel said, "America should realize not only the fact that it owes a substantial part of its greatness and strength to the European roots of its civilization. First and foremost, it should be aware that it might still need Europe very badly indeed."