Powell Urges Nations on Response to Iraq

AP Diplomatic Writer

UNITED NATIONS – Secretary of State Colin Powell implored other nations Monday to face up to Saddam Hussein, saying the world body “cannot shrink” from its responsibility to disarm Iraq.

“We cannot be shocked into impotence because we’re afraid of the difficult choices ahead of us,” Powell told members of the United Nations Security Council.

Powell, who faced a new burst of skepticism in talks with other leaders earlier Monday, was urging reluctant nations to focus on Baghdad’s failure to disarm and to prepare to weigh the consequences by the end of the month.

The secretary said the U.N. “cannot shrink” from dealing with a regime that he said has acquired, developed and stocked weapons of mass destruction and trampled human rights at home.

“So no matter how difficult the road ahead may be with respect to Iraq, we must not shrink from a need to travel down that road,” Powell said.

“Hopefully, there will be a peaceful solution,” he said. “But if Iraq does not come into full compliance, we must not shrink from the responsibilities that we set before ourselves” when the Security Council called for the disarmament of Iraq.

Powell, who was in New York to address a U.N. forum on terrorism, cited Saddam’s Iraq as a case in point.

“Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists or states that support terrorists would represent a mortal danger to us all,” he said. “We must make the United Nations even more effective, we must build even closer international cooperation to keep these weapons out of the hands of terrorists.”

U.N. weapons inspectors are due to present the findings of 60 days of searches on Jan. 27, and the Security Council is expected to meet two days later to take up the report. British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said Monday it was important to “wait and see what the inspectors actually say,” then, but he emphasized that “time is running out for Saddam Hussein.”

“This game of hide-and-seek has got to stop and there’s got to be complete, active, positive compliance by Iraq with the obligations imposed on Iraq by this Security Council under Resolution 1441,” he said. Straw spoke as Britain announced it was sending 26,000 troops to the Persian Gulf in preparation for possible military action against Iraq.

But Germany’s foreign minister took a strong stand against military action, saying it might have “negative repercussions,” for the international fight against terrorism.

“We have no illusions about the brutal nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime,” Joschka Fisher said during a daylong Security Council meeting on counterterrorism. But, he said: “We are greatly concerned that a military strike against the regime in Baghdad would involve considerable and unpredictable risks for the global fight on terrorism.”

Resolution 1441, crafted by Washington and London and passed by an unanimous Security Council in November, warns Iraq of “serious consequences,” if it fails to comply with inspections.

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on Monday dismissed reports that Iraq was now encouraging Iraqi scientists to take part in interviews with U.N. inspectors. “We’re only interested in action after 11 and 12 years of watching Saddam Hussein give his word and not keeping it,” said Fleischer.

Powell seized the occasion to urge foreign ministers to prepare for a response if the ministers conclude Iraq was withholding weapons information and refusing to make its scientists available.

“Everyone stressed the importance of disarmament and the hope that Iraq gets the message,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said after Powell met with Foreign Ministers Tang Jiaxuan of China, Dominique de Villepin of France and Luis Ernesto Derbez of Mexico.

But Tang of China pressed a go-slow approach, telling reporters Monday that the Jan. 27 report “is not a full stop of the inspection work but a new beginning.”

“There’s more work to do in terms of the inspection and it will take some time,” Tang said, adding that the inspectors’ work is “proceeding well.”

An adviser to Saddam announced Monday his country would increase its cooperation and tell its scientists to agree to interviews with U.N. weapons inspectors.

“Persons asked for interviews in private will be encouraged to accept,” presidential adviser Amir al-Saadi told reporters in Baghdad at the end of two days of talks with chief inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei.

Powell resumed his talks with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, Germany’s Fischer and Igor Ivanov of Russia.

Germany appears dead-set against using force against Iraq. France and Russia are among many nations that are reluctant, preferring instead extended diplomacy and lengthy inspections.

The inspectors themselves herald the Jan. 27 report as only an interim account of Iraq’s behavior over the past 12 years.

The Bush administration is not ruling out some delay in deciding what to do in unison with other members of the Security Council. And it also is not ruling out acting alone, or with a few allies, if the debate becomes extended.

Ivanov, in a speech to the council Monday, said: “We must be careful not to take unilateral action,” and that the council should move in unison to deal with Iraq.

U.S. officials said Sunday they would welcome Saddam Hussein seeking exile, saying it could avert military action to topple the Iraqi president.

“To avoid a war, I would be personally — would recommend that some provision be made so that the senior leadership in that country and their families could be provided haven in some other country,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“And I think that that would be a fair trade to avoid a war.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Rumsfeld said Iraq’s Arab neighbors were urging Saddam to step down and go into exile in a bid to prevent war. “It would be a good thing for the world if he left,” Rumsfeld said. But Saddam and Iraqi Cabinet ministers have said they would fight to the end.