Bush, Blair disagree over U.N. resolution

British Prime Minister Tony Blair emphasizes his conviction to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during a news conference with President Bush at the White House in Washington, Friday. Blair said, "This is a test of the international community."

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Published: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 31, 2003 at 11:42 p.m.

WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain stood with President Bush on Friday in warning Saddam Hussein that time is running out for Iraq to avoid war, but Bush and Blair appeared divided over how hard to press the U.N. Security Council for a new resolution supporting military action.

A day after Bush said he would make a decision about invading Iraq in ``weeks, not months,'' senior officials in Turkey signaled that they were likely to allow the United States to use their country as a base from which to attack Iraq from the north, opening a potentially crucial second front in the event of war.

Dismissing calls from other nations to use U.N. weapons inspections, sanctions and other international pressure to contain Iraq's aggression without resorting to war, Bush bluntly rejected the idea that Saddam could be rendered harmless to the world while remaining in power.

``After September the 11th, the doctrine of containment just doesn't hold any water, as far as I'm concerned,'' Bush said.

The president also played down Iraq's offer for talks with the U.N. weapons inspectors, saying ``calling inspectors in to negotiate is a charade.'' The chief inspectors declined to accept the invitation outright.

After meeting with Blair at the White House, the president reiterated his position on a second Security Council resolution. He said that while a resolution would be desirable, the lack of one would not prevent the United States from leading a military coalition against Iraq.

In doing so, he brought into clear focus a potentially important difference with Britain, his staunchest ally in taking a hard line against Saddam, and the intensifying strains between the United States and many if not most of the other members of the 15-nation Security Council.

American officials have said that the resolution adopted unanimously by the Security Council in November, No. 1441, not only calls for Iraq to comply immediately with demands that it disarm but also sanctions the use of force against Saddam's regime by stating that Iraq ``will face serious consequences'' if it does not give up its weapons of mass destruction.

``Should the United Nations pass a second resolution, it would be welcomed if it is yet another signal that we're intent on disarming Saddam Hussein,'' Bush told a joint news conference with the prime minister. ``But 1441 gives us the authority to move without any second resolution, and Saddam Hussein must understand that if he does not disarm, for the sake of peace, we along with others will go disarm Saddam Hussein.''

Diplomats said Bush's reluctance to seek a second resolution stemmed in part from the deep skepticism among the Security Council's other members about the need to cut off the weapons inspections and force an immediate showdown. At least 11 of the 15 Security Council members support giving the inspections more time, although they have also demanded that Iraq be more cooperative.

Among the countries that have indicated they want to give the inspections more time are three veto-bearing permanent members of the council: France, Russia and China. Germany also appears unalterably opposed to backing a war.

Blair, however, signaled that Britain would still prefer to seek the explicit backing of the Security Council for any military action. He said bringing the issue before the United Nations again amounted to ``a test for the international community'' in enforcing the demands in the original resolution.

Given that Iraq has not disarmed, Blair said, ``what is important is that the international community comes together again and makes it absolutely clear that this is unacceptable.''

The prime minister was more explicit earlier in the day in an interview with CNN. Asked if he wanted a second resolution, he replied ``absolutely'' and said the United Nations had to be a vehicle for resolving the situation rather than avoiding it.

``I think it's right that we go for a second resolution, because that's the way of saying this is an issue the international community isn't going to duck,'' Blair told CNN. ``We didn't last November; we're not going to now.''

American officials said after the meeting that Bush was not opposed to a second resolution, but was unwilling to get into a long negotiation over one. One official, noting the number of complicated calculations about how events would unfold in coming weeks, likened forecasting the likelihood of getting strong support from the Security Council's 15 members for a new resolution to trying to predict the weather.

``We're certainly not going to stand in the way, and we may even help in seeking a second resolution,'' the official said. ``But it's not going to be a process in which we get mired down.''

Reflecting the lack of enthusiasm and urgency within the administration for further action by the United Nations, another American official said, ``To the extent the French and others want to join us and catch up to us to keep the Security Council relevant, we can think about a second resolution, as long as it doesn't contradict the first one and it's quick. Sure, why not?''

Indeed, Bush appeared impatient Friday with the idea that he needed to seek more international support.

British diplomats said they were taken aback by the evident tension between Bush and Blair at the news conference. They said the encounter had displayed perhaps a little too visibly the differences between Bush and his closest ally over the pace of the march toward war and the urgency of gaining international support. Blair is scheduled to meet next week with President Jacques Chirac of France to discuss Iraq.

British officials have drawn up several alternative drafts of a second resolution, including a proposal for a new ultimatum and deadline, giving the weapons inspections as much as 30 more days. Blair, facing mounting popular opposition at home to war with Iraq and increasing dismay among the European allies at his closeness with Washington, had stressed that he would like more time to work on the Security Council for a second resolution authorizing war.

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