Iraq Dossier Doesn't Convince Critics

Bush, Iraq, Saddam Hussein AP / CBS

Prime Minister Tony Blair's warning about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction appeared to win little support outside Washington, with France and China expressing skepticism.

For weeks, talk about a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq had created widespread interest about Blair's long-promised dossier about Saddam Hussein's chemical and biological arsenal.

In it and his speech to a special session of the House of Commons on Tuesday, Blair said the stockpile is not only growing, but that Saddam is prepared to use such weapons of mass destruction quickly. The intelligence dossier also said Iraq has taken steps to develop nuclear weapons.

Blair, President Bush's top ally, said he wants U.N. weapons inspectors allowed back into Iraq with no limits on their movements.

But he also supported the U.S. goal of a "regime change" in Baghdad, given how often Saddam has defied the world body's requirements regarding his weapons since losing the Gulf War.

Britain and the United States are two of the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, and they have been trying to win the support of the other three — China, France and Russia — for a new resolution threatening Iraq for its continued defiance.

But the French and Chinese leaders both sounded skeptical Tuesday about Blair's speech and the dossier in comments they made while attending a summit of European and Asian leaders in Denmark.

French President Jacques Chirac said a war with Iraq is still avoidable if the U.N. Security Council is given a primary role in the crisis. Chirac reiterated there was no need for a proposed Security Council resolution threatening war if Saddam keeps U.N. arms inspectors out.

"This is not the view of France," said Chirac, adding that only inspectors can provide the needed proof about Saddam's weapons. "I do not think at all that war is unavoidable."

China's prime minister, Zhu Rongji, warned that any attack against Iraq without a U.N. blessing "will lead to severe consequences."

Calling for a U.N. mandate in the crisis, he said: "We request that Iraq comply with U.N. resolutions without any preconditions."

Blair faces stiff opposition in his own Labor Party to his tough talk on Iraq.

Anti-war lawmakers are organizing a march through London on Saturday, ending with a demonstration in Hyde Park. Planners hope it will be one of Europe's largest peace rallies.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw insisted Wednesday that there was no difference between British and American approaches to Iraq, rebuffing suggestions that his country was concerned mainly with disarming Saddam while the United States wanted to oust him.

"The objective which we seek ... is the disarmament of the Saddam Hussein regime," Straw told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. "It may be that a consequence of that process will be regime change, maybe the means to achieve that ... may be regime change. The objective is disarmament."

"Our priority, our strategy of choice, and this is also the strategy of choice of the United States, is to achieve this by peaceful means," he continued.

President Bush has made Iraqi "regime change" his administration's policy, but Straw said he heard the president focus on disarmament when he addressed the United Nations Sept. 12.

"I don't think there's anybody who would not wish to see the Iraqi regime change," he said. "If there is to be disarmament by the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein then the nature of that regime ... will have changed quite profoundly."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer dismissed suggestions Tuesday that Mr. Bush and the British prime minister were focused on different goals.

"I don't think there's any difference between us," Fleischer said.

Meanwhile, Democrats said they were ready to back President Bush but not prepared to give him a blank check to wage war on the Iraqi leader.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Tuesday he hoped to reach a compromise by the end of the week with the administration on a resolution giving the president the authority to use whatever means necessary to deal with Iraq. He said his party, seeking to return attention to the economy before the election, wants a quick vote on the Iraqi resolution.

But Democrats say the draft proposal Mr. Bush sent to Congress last week is far too broad in giving the president open-ended authority to use military force against Iraq, unilaterally if necessary, to disarm the country, drive Saddam from power and secure peace in the region.

"We should be dealing with a coalition here rather than going it alone," said Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. "If we don't have a coalition we run the risk of expanding opportunities for terrorism around the world against the United States."

Durbin said many Democrats shared the sentiments of former Vice President Al Gore, who on Monday criticized Mr. Bush's policy on Iraq. But few Democrats were supporting Gore's views publicly on Tuesday. Gore's 2000 running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, even said he disagreed with Gore's assertion that Mr. Bush's focus on Iraq could hurt the overall U.S. war on terrorism.

"I respectfully disagree with that part of it," Lieberman said. "I am confident the American military can do, and will do, both at once."

Republicans remained solidly behind the president's insistence that America must act decisively to end the threat posed by Saddam. The first President Bush got worldwide support in 1991 in the effort to drive Iraqi troops from Kuwait, said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. "I think the same result will happen after we get a regime change" in Baghdad.

The one Republican leader openly expressing his concerns was House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, who said he was still not prepared to say how he will vote on an Iraq resolution. "I still remain the hardest sell in this town," Armey said.

The final wording of the resolution was being negotiated by the House and Senate leaders and White House officials. Armey, one of the chief negotiators, indicated he was open to those saying the resolution should put more stress on having a multilateral coalition against Saddam, agreeing that it was "useful to have more than one person in the schoolyard stand up to the schoolyard bully."
  • Dan Collins

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