Powell presents Iraq case

Published: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 10:57 p.m.
DAVOS, Switzerland - Secretary of State Colin L. Powell came close to dismissing a crucial U.N. report on Iraq weapons on Sunday on the eve of the report's publication, and said the United States would go to war against Iraq alone if its divided European allies would not join the fight.
While Powell promised that the Bush administration would study the findings of the report when it is submitted today, he indicated that it would be useless to give the weapons inspectors more time.
Bringing the case for military action to a deeply skeptical audience of political, business and religious leaders at a conference in the Swiss Alps, Powell said Saddam Hussein of Iraq had "repeatedly violated the trust of the United Nations, his people and his neighbors." And he renewed an administration contention that Saddam had ties to al-Qaeda terrorists.
His remarks at the conference, the annual World Economic Forum, deepened a sense of inevitability among people here about a conflict. Speaking after Powell, King Abdullah of Jordan said the prospects for a peaceful resolution were fading.
"We are a bit 'too little, too late' to see a diplomatic solution," said the king, whose land borders Iraq. "Let us hope that whatever happens between Iraq and the international community is as quick and painless as possible."
Though the United States had hoped to forge a consensus among its allies, Powell said, the lack of a coalition would not deter the Bush administration. "When we feel strongly about something, we will lead, we will act, even if others are not prepared to join us," he said.
By promising to study the report and consult with other members of the Security Council before acting, the secretary made a modest concession to the qualms of Europeans about what many here describe as Washington's stampede toward war.
But he also recited a litany of failures and unanswered questions in Iraq's cooperation with the inspectors, who have been looking for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in Iraq for two months.
"To those who say 'Why not give the inspection process more time?' I ask 'How much more time does Iraq need to answer these questions?' " Powell said.
"We're in no great rush to judgment tomorrow or the day after, but clearly time is running out," he said. "We will not shrink from war if that is the only way to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction."
Powell's speech is part of a campaign by the White House, culminating in President Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday, to rally public opinion at home and abroad.
While the secretary did not produce new evidence of Iraqi weapons, he insisted that the burden of proof was on Saddam, not the inspectors, to give an accounting of Baghdad's munitions.
Administration officials declined to say what time line they had in mind for a decision about any invasion.
European diplomats suggested that they would continue to press for more time for the inspectors.
Speaking on the ABC News program "This Week," Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, said that if Hans Blix, the head of the chemical and biological weapons inspection team, asked the Security Council for more time when he submitted his report today, he should get it.
"I don't think that we are talking about an infinite amount of time," Solana said. "Time has been given to Saddam Hussein before. So we are talking about a question of weeks, perhaps months."
Speaking on French television, the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, called for an extension of the inspections for "several weeks, or for a few months."
Asked for evidence to back up Powell's assertion that Saddam had "clear ties" to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff, told "Fox News Sunday" that the Iraqi leader "has had a history of a relationship with terrorist organizations in the past, and it would be horrible if his weapons of mass destruction got into the hands of terrorists."
Card was asked on another show, NBC's "Meet the Press," about reports that the United States was prepared to use nuclear weapons if need be against Iraq. He answered: "Should Saddam Hussein have any thought that he would use a weapon of mass destruction, he should anticipate that the United States will use whatever means necessary to protect us and the world from a holocaust."
Even as the administration struggles with its allies, it is facing pressure at home to go slow in confronting Iraq.
Powell's speech did little to change the view of the Democratic leadership in Congress that Bush was acting in "a very precipitous way," as Sen. Tom Daschle, the minority leader, put it on Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
There was little indication that Powell changed the minds of people at the World Economic Forum, which assembles a rarefied fraternity of heads of state, chief executives, and other notables. The audience applauded the loudest for those who rose to condemn U.S. policy.
Still, at a meeting marked by relentless antagonism toward the U.S. government, Powell offered a muscular, unapologetic, and at times emotional, defense of the nation's exercise of power.
"I don't think I have anything to be ashamed of, or apologize for, with respect to what America has done for the world," he said in response to a question about why the United States always fell back on the use of "hard power" instead of the "soft power" of diplomacy.
Powell noted that the United States had sent its soldiers into foreign wars over the last century, most recently in Afghanistan, without having imperial designs on the territories it secured.
"We've put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives," he said, his voice growing hoarse. "We've asked for nothing but enough land to bury them in."
At other moments, Powell's tone was more conciliatory. He acknowledged the split between the United States and two key European allies, France and Germany, which last week said they would oppose military action. Powell likened it to the bumps in a marriage.
"One or two of our friends, we have been in marriage counseling with for over 225 years nonstop," he said, "and yet the marriage is intact, remains strong, will weather any differences that come along."
Still, the speech laid bare the stark differences in how Europe, Arab states and the United States view the threat from Iraq.
King Abdullah said he was "concerned that we are being diverted onto another track" by the crisis in Iraq, distracting from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the main hurdle to regional peace.
That theme was taken up by Prince Turki al Faisal al Saud, a member of the Saudi royal house, who said U.S. policy - seen in the Arab world as pro-Israel - was the principal reason for Arab hostility toward Washington.
A poll of the audience conducted during the session found that 81 percent believed a war with Iraq was inevitable. Fifty-six percent said it would drag on for six months, and ignite urban warfare in Baghdad.
Earlier, the former archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, confronted Powell, saying that the U.S. insistence on military power had created "a credibility gap of trust in American politicians, and it's a very grave problem."
A Dutch banker, Hubertus Heemskerk, seemed to speak for many in the audience when he challenged Powell to produce evidence of Iraq's transgressions before going to war.
"I think the evidence is there, the evidence is clear," Powell replied.
He said the United States would present more evidence of Iraqi weapons programs "in the days and weeks ahead."
The White House may not be helped by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which helped conduct weapons inspections in Iraq and said Sunday that it would not produce a "smoking gun" in its report.
Powell, however, argued that Security Council resolution 1441 placed the onus on Iraq to "come clean" by disclosing its weapons, rather than obliging the inspectors to root out arms in a country "the size of California."
"This is not about inspectors finding smoking guns," he said.
The British head of Amnesty International, Irene Khan, was applauded when she questioned whether the Iraq threat "risks provoking a massive humanitarian and human rights catastrophe."
Powell said the United States was "sensitive to the plight of the Iraqi people, not only in case of conflict but also right now."

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