Top Bush administration officials yesterday criticized new proposals floated by the French and German governments to avert war in Iraq by sending increased numbers of United Nations weapons inspectors into Iraq along with U.N. troops who would try to enforce demands that Baghdad comply with weapons searches.
In multiple appearances on Sunday TV talk shows, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said that the U.S. government has not been given details of the French and German proposals. But both said they appeared to be "a diversion" that could enable Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to stall full revelations about his weapons of mass destruction.
"What are these blue-helmeted U.N. forces going to do, shoot their way into Iraqi compounds?" Powell said yesterday on ABC's "This Week." "If it is a plan that ignores Iraqi noncompliance and says the solution is more inspectors, that doesn't solve the problem."
"I don't know what that accomplishes," Powell continued. "The issue is not more inspectors or more robust inspections. The issue is, will Iraq comply?"
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he is "almost completely in agreement" with the proposals after he spoke over the weekend with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Putin also is scheduled to meet with French President Jacques Chirac within days. European news reports suggest France will propose a tripling in the number of inspectors, and deployment of as many as 1,000 U.N. troops.
On "Fox News Sunday," Powell said that increasing the numbers of U.N. inspectors would be a useless exercise, and would send the message, "Well, keep non-complying and we'll send three times as many inspectors to watch you non-comply."
"With each passing day, Iraq is in greater material breach of the resolution," 1441, which requires Iraqi cooperation in inspections, Powell said. "I hope that the U.N. will not slip into irrelevance by failing to step up to its responsibilities at this moment in history."
That remark seems aimed in part at Paris, because diplomatic experts say French officials are concerned that a loss of credibility for the United Nations would be a blow to France's international standing. The United Nations is one of the few international forums in which France operates on a par with the United States, the experts say.
French and German officials have revealed little about their recommendations. But Powell and other Bush administration officials were responding in part to comments at the United Nations last week by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin about raising the numbers of U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq, and to a report in the German magazine Der Spiegel.
Some details of the plans surfaced at a meeting of western security officials over the weekend in Munich, which was attended by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. But aides to Rumsfeld said he learned nothing about the plan in meetings with the German and French defense ministers, according to wire reports.
"We've heard really nothing from the French or German government," Rice said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "The problem isn't an absence of inspectors. The problem isn't that we have 108 and we need 200 or 300."
Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix is scheduled to report on Iraq's level of compliance with inspectors on Friday, and diplomats speculated that the French and Germans would publicly unveil their proposals then.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Powell was asked about Iraqi officials' denials that there was any work on ballistic missiles being done at an Iraqi facility that Powell cited before the United Nations last Wednesday, pointing to satellite photographs.
"We knew that Iraq would be instantly preparing its dog-and-pony shows for reporters to be taken to sites," Powell replied. "It's not just what we saw on that particular day. It's a pattern of activity we look at over an extended period of time. . . . Everything that I laid out that day was multi-sourced, and I'm quite sure will stand the test of time."
Powell also was asked why, given the photographic evidence that he cited of a terrorist chemical weapons plant in northern Iraq, the United States has not attacked that facility. Powell replied that the plant is in an area that is in dispute between a Kurdish terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda and pro-U.S. Kurdish forces. "There is not complete control of the Kurds of the site," he said. "We are constantly reviewing what our military options are."