The secretary tells France and Germany their "inexcusable" actions make action against Iraq more likely.
Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 9, 2003
MUNICH, Germany -- In a jab at major U.S. allies, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Saturday that countries such as France and Germany that favor giving Iraq another chance to disarm are undermining what slim chance may exist to avoid war.
"There are those who counsel that we should delay preparations" for war against Iraq. "Ironically, that approach could well make war more likely, not less, because delaying preparations sends a signal of uncertainty," Rumsfeld said in the opening address at an international conference on security policy.
As Rumsfeld spoke, the senior U.N. weapons inspectors landed in Baghdad on what could be their last visit, seeking significant moves by Iraq to prove that it has really disarmed.
Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei were seeking documents and other evidence to show how Iraq can account for its weapons of mass destruction. The inspectors earlier said they would ask for more private interviews with Iraqi scientists and for Iraq's acceptance of U-2 spy plane flights.
The two did not give details of their talks on Saturday. They planned more meetings today.
The inspectors' next report to the U.N. Security Council will be on Friday.
It also was reported Saturday that Germany and France are working on a broad disarmament plan for Iraq that includes the deployment of U.N. soldiers throughout the country, reconnaissance flights and a tripling of the number of weapons inspectors.
The plan could be presented to the U.N. Security Council as a resolution, the weekly Der Spiegel said, though it was unclear how the two countries or the United Nations would win Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's approval.
Also on Saturday, Turkey's top civilian and military leaders agreed to allow the United States to send 38,000 troops to the country to open a northern front should there be war, Turkish TV reported.
The report said the leaders agreed to let the United States launch attacks from three air bases: Diyarbakir and Batman in southeastern Turkey and Incirlik in southern Turkey. The United States would also be allowed to use three other bases for logistical support, and at least one Mediterranean port, NTV said.
Back in Munich, Rumsfeld said the United Nations, by allowing Iraq to violate 17 Security Council resolutions over more than a decade, appeared to be following the League of Nations in choosing bluff over action.
Allowing Iraq to become chairman of the U.N. Commission on Disarmament and selecting Libya to lead its Commission on Human Rights showed that the institution "seems not to be even struggling to regain credibility," he said.
"That these acts of irresponsibility could happen now, at this moment in history, is breathtaking," Rumsfeld said. "Those acts will be marked in the history of the U.N. as either the low point of that institution in retreat, or the turning point when the U.N. woke up, took hold of itself, and moved away from a path of ridicule to a path of responsibility."
Turning to America's NATO partners, Rumsfeld was critical of France, Germany and Belgium for what he said were "inexcusable" actions to postpone alliance planning to defend Turkey in the event of war with Iraq.
"Turkey will not be hurt," Rumsfeld said. "The United States and the countries in NATO will go right ahead and do it. What will be hurt will be NATO, not Turkey."
Senior Turkish leaders, who were meeting with American diplomats, were not available for comment. The TV report on the agreement to allow American troops to use the country for an attack on Iraq could not be confirmed. The Turkish parliament would have to approve any such agreement and is scheduled to vote Feb. 18.
In an animated rebuttal to Rumsfeld, Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, said his nation was not abandoning its obligations to defend Turkey, but suggested that NATO planners await the next report of the weapons inspectors on Feb. 14.
"We didn't want an extra buildup to be done, so to speak, before the decisive Security Council meeting," Fischer said. Proposals for NATO's defense of Turkey include deploying Patriot anti-missile batteries and surveillance aircraft.
Fischer said he had no argument with the American assessment of Hussein as a dictator who has fired Scud missiles at his neighbors and has used chemical weapons.
"Why this priority now?" he asked Rumsfeld. "We have known this for a long time."
Fischer recounted Germany's arguments for international inspectors to continue their efforts in Iraq, especially given new intelligence disclosed last week by Secretary of State Colin Powell, and he contrasted the American case for military action.
"I am not convinced," Fischer said. "This is my problem."
A German government spokesman confirmed that France and Germany were working together to find a peaceful alternative to war, but declined to comment on specifics in the Der Spiegel article.
The lively exchange occurred during an annual conference on international security in Munich, a gathering on defense issues, where former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency mingle with Russian national security czars, government ministers meet in formal bilateral sessions and in elegant private dinners.
The gap between American and European views of the global terrorist threat was summed up by Edmund Stoiber, the premier of the German state of Bavaria, who said, "The dangers are not perceived in this breadth and width."
Rumsfeld's theme that the nations of the world faced a momentous decision was echoed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who told the conference that France and Germany had dealt a "terrible injury" to the alliance and "raised doubts among nations on both sides of the Atlantic about their commitment to multinational diplomacy."
Despite Rumsfeld's lengthy public criticism of the United Nations for its handling of Iraq, he spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov, of the important role that one of its organs, the International Atomic Energy Agency, must play in defusing the current nuclear crisis in North Korea.
During a closed-door meeting, Rumsfeld and Ivanov agreed that North Korea posed a threat to the entire world, and that it should be dealt with as a international problem, the New York Times, citing a senior Defense Department official, reported.
Even as he rallied support for a possible war with Iraq, Rumsfeld tried humor to appease irritated allies.
Rumsfeld made light of his description of Germany and France as the "old Europe," whose opposition to war with Iraq he contrasts with support for the United States from Britain, Italy and a number of post-communist nations new to NATO and the European Union.
"At my age," said the 70-year-old Rumsfeld, "I consider "old' a term of endearment."
But Rumsfeld got in a subtle dig at Germany, the biggest and most powerful nation, which in the 1990s saw itself as a unified nation at the heart of Europe with influence increasing to the east.
"The center of Europe has indeed shifted eastward," Rumsfeld said, noting that the United States was pleased with the new alignments within the alliance. The post-communist nations -- or at least many of their current leaders -- see the United States as a power whose championing of the cause of liberty proved decisive in the defeat of communism. Unlike France or Germany, these nations also have no history of irritation and bickering in the post-1945 Atlantic alliance.
Rumsfeld saluted the leaders of Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain, who wrote a letter pledging their commitment to disarming Iraq. He also praised a subsequent declaration -- this one from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Croatia and Macedonia -- offering to contribute to a coalition to enforce Security Council resolutions on disarming Iraq.
Rumsfeld said the United States did not expect every ally to join such a military effort. "The strength of our coalition is that we do not expect every member to be a party of every undertaking," he said.
But he warned those who say preparations for war must be delayed, because, he argued, "that approach could well make war more likely, not less, because delaying preparations sends a signal of uncertainty, instead of a signal of unity and resolve."
No one wants war, Rumsfeld said. "War is never a first or an easy choice," he added. "But the risks of war need to be balanced against the risks of doing nothing while Iraq pursues the tools of mass destruction."
-- Information from the New York Times, Associated Press and Knight Ridder was used in this report.