President Bush said yesterday he would accept nothing short of "full disarmament" by Iraq and served notice he is willing to go to war even without passage of a second U.N. Security Council resolution offered Monday by the United States, Britain and Spain.
He expressed increasing irritation at the diplomatic maneuvering at the United Nations and his determination to head off any move by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to demonstrate cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors that would provide ammunition to Security Council opponents of military action.
Bush's uncompromising tone, reflecting the administration's high-stakes gamble to win approval of a new resolution shortly after a March 7 report by the chief U.N. weapons inspector, echoed a private message being delivered by U.S. diplomats to council members that a military attack is inevitable and that any attempt to delay would destroy the United Nations' credibility.
Hussein has "been successful at gaming the system," Bush told reporters. "And our attitude is: It's now time for him to fully disarm. And we expect the Security Council to honor its word by insisting that Saddam disarm. Now is the time."
Bush spoke only minutes after Hans Blix, a Swedish diplomat who is overseeing the inspections, told reporters at the United Nations that Iraq has made "positive" gestures, including providing new documents describing its disposal of banned weapons programs in the early 1990s. Blix also confirmed that Baghdad recently acknowledged discovering an R-400 aerial bomb containing an unidentified liquid at a known biological weapons disposal site.
In a further complication for the administration, Blix, and Germany and France -- the two main opponents of an imminent war -- have come to believe Hussein has decided to destroy Iraq's Al Samoud 2 missile system and its associated equipment, diplomatic sources said. Blix, who has demanded that Iraq begin destroying the missiles by Saturday because they exceed a U.N. restriction, yesterday ordered a senior adviser, Dimitrius Perricos, to travel to Baghdad to oversee the pace of the missiles' dismantling.
In his remarks, however, Bush implied that more would be required of Iraq. Asked what it would take to avoid a war, he replied, "There's only one thing, that's full disarmament."
The administration continued its steady march to war on other fronts, as the Turkish government asked parliament to authorize the deployment of 62,000 U.S. combat troops and 320 warplanes and helicopters in Turkey. U.S. warplanes bombed five missile sites in northern and southern Iraq, including four battlefield rocket launchers. The strikes were the most extensive on a single day since the Security Council passed a resolution in November giving Iraq "a final opportunity" to disarm.
Bush is scheduled to give a speech tonight outlining the administration's vision of how an overthrow of Hussein and the creation of an Iraqi democracy would be the first step in a wave of democratic changes across the Middle East, fundamentally reshaping the region and enhancing U.S. interests. [Details, Page A19.]
On the diplomatic front, Howard Leach, the U.S. ambassador to France, said Washington would consider a veto of a new resolution by France "very unfriendly," a remark that underscored the sunken state of relations between the United States and its longtime ally. "We would not look favorably on that," he told a French television network.
Undersecretary of State John Bolton, visiting Moscow, said he had not won Russian support for a new resolution on Iraq, though U.S. officials said they expect Russia will ultimately abstain to avoid harming relations with the United States. A White House official declined to confirm or deny reports that national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was considering a visit to Moscow soon, in what would be her first solo overseas trip since June 2001.
Rice and Bush met Monday at the White House with Aleksandr Voloshin, chief of staff to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will meet today with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
The draft Security Council resolution introduced Monday declares that Iraq has squandered its "final opportunity" to voluntarily disarm and recalls the council's November warning that Baghdad would face "serious consequences" if it did not, language that the United States and its allies in the chamber view as an explicit authorization to use force.
The United States, Britain and Spain must secure at least nine votes among the 15 council members to pass the measure, but only Bulgaria, whose prime minister met with Bush at the White House yesterday, has signaled support. Six nations have indicated opposition -- including France, Russia and China, which have veto power -- so the administration needs to win the support of five of the six undecided nations to secure the nine votes needed for passage.
France, Germany and Russia are backing an alternative proposal calling for extending weapons inspections into the summer.
If Iraq agrees to destroy the prohibited missiles, it should take just a day or two to demolish the roughly 70 Al Samoud 2s that are deployed, according to a U.N. official who worked on the destruction of Iraqi missiles in the early 1990s. It would take additional time, but no more than two weeks, to determine what other components and related equipment need to be destroyed.
At the United Nations, envoys from France, Russia and Germany met with representatives of the 10 nonpermanent members of the council at the Chilean mission in an effort to deprive the United States of support for a new resolution. They sought to broaden backing for their alternative proposal to reinforce U.N. inspections and delay a decision on war.
A senior diplomat whose government was represented at the meeting said the message that emerged from the meeting "was not going in the direction of the U.S.-backed resolution." Another council member official who attended the meeting said: "I had the impression that in spite of the tremendous pressure countries are facing, they were really resisting the demands of the United States."
Representatives from the United States, Britain and Spain will meet with the same group today.
Delegates from some of the smaller council nations indicated irritation at suggestions by U.S. officials that they would ultimately yield to U.S. pressure to support the resolution. "Do you think they can come to us and say, 'If you don't vote for us we are going to do this to you'? " asked Mamady Traore, the U.N. ambassador from Guinea, which will assume the rotating presidency of the council next month. "Don't think because we are an African country, that because we are an underdeveloped country that we will accept everything. We have our own dignity."
Lynch reported from the United Nations. Staff writer Walter Pincus contributed to this report.