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Missiles 'tip of iceberg,' Bush says

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

CRAWFORD, Texas -- President Bush said Saturday that even if Iraq agreed to destroy all of its prohibited missiles, they are "just the tip of the iceberg" in its illegal arsenal and that Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming.

Bush made his remarks during a news conference at the side of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, one of his strongest supporters on Iraq, who traveled to Bush's Texas ranch to consult on the wording of a new resolution the administration plans to present to the U.N. Security Council in the coming week.

The resolution would declare Iraq in breach of its obligations to disarm and authorize the use of military force against Hussein.

Bush characterized next week's talks in the United Nations as "final deliberations," a signal that Hussein may have only weeks left to avoid a possible American attack.

Bush was reacting to a demand Friday by Hans Blix, a chief United Nations weapons inspector, that Iraq must start destroying within a week all of its Al Samoud 2 missiles and any illegally imported engines for use in rockets. If Iraq does not comply, American officials are certain to present the failure as powerful evidence that Hussein will never part with his weapons of mass destruction.

If Hussein does begin to comply, the concern within the administration is that France, for one, would argue once again the weapons inspections were working and that Hussein needs more time. Seeking to cut off that argument before it starts, Bush, showing considerable impatience, said Saturday that getting rid of a few weapons was not enough.

"If Iraq decides to destroy the weapons that were long-range weapons, that's just the tip of the iceberg," Bush said, speaking in a helicopter hangar on the edge of his ranch.

Hussein will use words "that sound encouraging," Bush said. "He's done so for 12 years. So the idea of destroying a rocket, or two rockets, or however many he's going to destroy, says to me he's got a lot more weapons to destroy."

Bush, who spoke as the United States continued its push toward war on multiple diplomatic and military fronts, said he and Aznar had just completed a conference call at the ranch with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy to discuss the strategy in the battle for votes in the 15-member Security Council in favor of a new resolution.

So far the United States is sure of only three other votes besides its own: those of Britain, Spain and Bulgaria. A council resolution needs nine votes to pass, with no vetoes from the five permanent members, which are the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China. At this point, France, Russia and China remain opposed to a new resolution authorizing force.

Bush said the new resolution would declare in "clear and simple terms" that Iraq is not living up to its obligations.

"During these final deliberations, there is but one question for the council to address: Is Saddam Hussein complying with Resolution 1441?" Bush said. "That resolution did not ask for hints of progress or minor concessions. It demanded full and immediate disarmament. That, and that alone, is the issue before the council."

Meanwhile, U.N. weapons inspectors tagging Al Samoud 2 missiles for destruction were met Saturday by an irate factory director, who pleaded with them to let Iraq keep its weapons so it can defend itself in the face of war.

Nine inspectors, many wearing blue U.N. caps and black leather jackets, pulled up in sports utility vehicles at the Ibn al-Haithem company on the northern outskirts of Baghdad, which is involved in producing the missile.

Splitting into three groups, the men entered "workshops, assembly areas and all departments. They tagged some of the missiles that were being assembled," according to Owayed Ahmed Ali, director of the factory.

Ali said he pleaded with them not to force Iraq to destroy the missiles.

"I asked (the inspectors), 'You would destroy a defensive weapon now that we are threatened by the Americans, who might strike at any moment?' " he said.

"Some said, 'You are right, but we have orders,' while others said, 'You have other means to defend yourself,' " he recounted.

In other developments:

TURKEY NEGOTIATIONS: Administration officials said Saturday they were still negotiating the details of a $15-billion aid package to Turkey in exchange for American access to Turkey as a military base of operations that would serve as a northern front against Iraq.

Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, said that there were "Continued good conversations with Turkey," but that "nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to."

Still, the United States hopes to begin moving troops and equipment into Turkey as early as this week, preparing for an expected second front in a possible war with Iraq, Pentagon officials said.

COUNTRIES OPPOSE WAR: Foreign ministers from more than half the world met in Malaysia and urged Iraq on Saturday to comply with U.N. resolutions but made clear their opposition to a U.S.-led war on Baghdad.

A declaration prepared for a Non-Aligned Movement summit also said that if Iraq continued to cooperate with U.N. inspectors in eliminating weapons of mass destruction, the debilitating sanctions imposed on Baghdad since the 1991 Gulf War should be lifted.

Although the draft declaration endorsed Saturday by foreign ministers addressed U.S. concerns by stressing that Baghdad must comply with Security Council Resolution 1441, its overall tone left no doubt that the Non-Aligned Movement does not want to see an attack.

Leaders of the movement's 114 nations were expected to approve the declaration at their summit starting Monday. The movement, comprising mostly developing nations, represents 55 percent of the world's population and nearly two-thirds of U.N. members.

IRAQ AIRSTRIKES: American warplanes bombed military communications sites in southern Iraq on Saturday after the Iraqis fired antiaircraft guns at U.S. planes, U.S. Central Command said.

Around 2:45 p.m. EST, the U.S. planes bombed six cable relay sites between Al Kut, about 95 miles southeast of Baghdad, and Basra, about 245 miles southeast of Baghdad, Central Command said in a statement.

The Iraqis have fired on southern no-fly zone patrols more than 100 times so far this year and sent aircraft into the zone three times. The U.S. has responded with more than 40 airstrikes.

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