Inspectors want time; Bush stays his course
Compiled from Times wires
WASHINGTON -- On the eve of a crucial U.N. session on weapons inspections in Iraq, President Bush said Thursday he was optimistic that the United Nations would show the "backbone and courage" to authorize the use of force to disarm Baghdad.
With much of the nation jittery from terrorism warnings in advance of a possible war, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged the country to brace for "a fairly long-term commitment" in Iraq if military action is ordered.
If war comes, "I don't expect the country to be devastated," said Powell, though he conceded uncertainty in how fighting there might unfold. "I would hope that the conflict would be short," Powell said in testimony before the House Budget Committee. "We are looking at a full range of options, from a walk in the sun to destruction of the oil fields."
The comments set up a critical appearance today before the U.N. Security Council by chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei. They are scheduled to provide the council with what is likely to be its final progress report on weapons inspections before the 15-member body considers whether to authorize the use of military force against the Iraqi regime.
ElBaradei, for his part, said inspections should continue. He and Blix will tell the council that Iraq is developing new missiles systems, has imported parts that could be used for a nuclear program and still isn't cooperating 100 percent, U.N. officials said Thursday.
While the reports by the inspectors are expected to welcome recent Iraqi efforts at cooperation, the moves fall short of the complete and genuine turnaround Blix said he was hoping for when he left for meetings with Iraqi officials last week.
"We're still in midcourse," ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the Associated Press in an interview Thursday on a flight from Vienna to New York. "But we are moving forward, and I see no reason for us to bring the inspection process to a halt."
ElBaradei also said he did not consider war a foregone conclusion provided "we see some progress on the part of Iraq" in revealing any hidden weapons of mass destruction.
In his report, ElBaradei will raise remaining questions about Iraq's nuclear program including possible imports of uranium, smuggled aluminum tubing, and other components that could be used to revive Iraq's nuclear program.
The United States and Britain have been working on a draft resolution authorizing force, though several Security Council members -- including veto-wielding nations France, Russia and China -- continue to voice reservations about the use of force.
Bush expressed hope that diplomacy could narrow those gaps.
"I believe, when it's all said and done, free nations will not allow the United Nations to fade into history as an ineffective, irrelevant debating society," Bush told U.S. forces at the Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville. "I'm optimistic that free nations will show backbone and courage in the face of true threats to peace and freedom."
Reiterating his intention to deal forcefully with Iraq with or without U.N. support, Bush said the gravest threat Americans face is the risk that chemical, biological or nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of terrorists willing to use them to strike against the United States or its partners.
"This enemy will not be restrained by mercy, or by conscience," Bush said. "We'll protect America and our friends and allies from these thugs."
At the United Nations, France and Germany pressed their own plan, calling for a doubling or tripling of the roughly 100 inspectors in Iraq as an alternative to war.
Powell, who will represent the United States at today's Security Council meeting, rejected the plan. "That, I am sorry, is a diversion," Powell said. "It isn't a lack of inspectors that is causing the problem. It's Iraqi noncompliance."
U.N. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Blix would address the French and German proposal in his report on the hunt for Baghdad's biological, chemical and missile programs. The chief U.N. inspector isn't limited by the number of people he can hire now, and while he has said more inspectors could be useful, "it still remains vital that you have ... good cooperation from the Iraqis on substance."
Blix is likely to focus on a new Iraqi missile system that slightly exceeds the range limits set by Security Council resolutions. Blix could recommend that U.N. inspectors destroy the al-Samoud missile system.
As U.S. force levels in the Persian Gulf near 200,000, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the military was "absolutely" prepared to strike at Iraq even as it presses a global antiterror campaign.
U.S. intelligence officials say they have detected movement of explosives by the Iraqi military into the southern part of the country, perhaps in preparation to destroy oil wells if an attack comes from Kuwait, Reuters reported.
In Brussels, NATO members failed for a fourth straight day to resolve the controversy over a U.S.-backed plan to provide weapons to defend Turkey against possible missile attacks from neighboring Iraq. France, Germany and Belgium have blocked the plan, which is backed by 16 of NATO's 19 members.
The White House has estimated that war and reconstruction of Iraq could cost between $50-billion and $200-billion. Pressed to narrow the range, Powell said there were too many variables to offer a reasonable estimate.
"I would hope that the conflict would be short, that it would be directed principally at the leadership and not at the society," said Powell. "That certainly is our goal. We don't go after people. We don't go after societies. We go after weapons, we go after military units, and we go after the leadership that is controlling all of this."
Powell stressed that the United States would have to be engaged in Iraq for the long haul -- estimates range from two years to a decade -- to keep the country from descending into post-war chaos.
Initially, a post-Hussein Iraq would be administered by a U.S. general -- likely Gen. Tommy Franks, head of Central Command -- similar to the way Japan was marshaled following World War II.
"But it would be our goal to quickly transition from military leadership," to civilian control, said Powell. "We don't want an American general running a Muslim country for any length of time."
Longer term, said Powell, the goal is to help build the footings of democratic government.
"The challenge would be to put in place a representative leadership," said Powell. "This is a country with no democratic tradition. That will take some time."
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From the Times wire desk
From the AP