Town Meeting Is Off To Rocky Start

A forum at which top administration officials are outlining U.S. policy toward Iraq is off to a bumpy start -- thanks to a handful of protesters.

The protesters in Columbus, Ohio, tried to drown out Secretary of State Madeleine Albright with anti-war slogans, a couple of minutes into her opening remarks.

When the moderator, CNN's Bernard Shaw, pointed out that most of the people there wanted to hear Albright speak, there was loud applause.

But the shouts continued, as Secretary of Defense William Cohen began his remarks.

President Clinton sent his three top foreign policy advisers into the American heartland Wednesday to make a case for a U.S.-led attack on Iraq if diplomacy fails to pry open hundreds of Iraqi sites where dangerous arms may be hidden.

Albright, Cohen, and Sandy Berger, the White House national security adviser, were dispatched to Ohio State University to try to drum up support at a town meeting.

Their visit comes as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan prepares to travel to Baghdad in a last-ditch diplomatic effort. Top administration officials remain skeptical that diplomacy will turn Saddam around.

So do some U.N. officials. As a precautionary measure, the U.N. is sending 32 staff members out of Baghdad to Jordan Thursday. Spokesman Eric Feit said another 60 staff members who had left Iraq recently for vacations were staying outside the country. Thursday's departure would leave 140 U.N. workers in Iraq.

Today's move is part of an administration effort to halt an erosion of U.S. support for military action in Iraq. That effort was dealt a blow Wednesday morning when former President Jimmy Carter says bombing Iraq is not the way to bring Saddam Hussein in line.

Carter spoke from Atlanta, Georgia, Wednesday morning with CBS co-anchor Mika Brzezinski on Up To The Minute, saying the best option for dealing with Iraq is diplomacy.

Albright will continue on from Ohio, speaking Thursday at Tennessee State University in Nashville and the University of South Carolina at Columbia.

"She will make clear the stakes involved in this crisis, the threat posed, the diplomatic efforts we've sought to resolve this without the use of force, and the reasons why the use of force may be necessary," James P. Rubin, the State Department spokesman, said.

In other developments:

  • Clinton's Republican opponent in the 1996 election, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, said Tuesday the president should seek authorization from Congress before launching a military strike.

    "When President Bush decided to go on the offensive instead of the defensive, he asked Congress for authorization," Dole said in Nashville. "I think President Clinton should do the same thing."

    His successor as majority leader, Senator Trent Lott, R-Miss., last week postponed such a vote, saying there was insufficient support.

    The Senate retrns from recess Monday, the House on Tuesday. There is broad support for insisting on gaining unrestricted access to suspected arms sites for U.N. inspectors, but a splintering of views about using force.

  • Iraq, keen to show how it is cooperating with U.N. arms inspectors, allowed reporters to tour three U.N.-monitored factories near Baghdad Wednesday.

    They are monitored with remote-control cameras, sensors and air samplers because the United Nations fears they could be used to make chemical, biological or other prohibited weapons.

  • Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov said Wednesday diplomacy was easing the crisis over Iraq and he hoped the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's mission later this week to Baghdad would succeed.

    "Conditions seem to be favorable to achieve (a settlement)," he told a joint news conference with his Hungarian counterpart, Laszlo Kovacs, in Budapest. He said Annan's trip to Baghdad on Friday to defuse the crisis over Iraq's refusal to open sensitive sites to U.N. arms inspectors offered a particularly good opportunity.

  • Iraq said Wednesday Annan must not parrot the U.S. line when he comes to Baghdad.

    Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz has welcomed the peace mission by Annan, saying Iraq was ready to discuss with him in a "responsible, civilized way" the issue of access to disputed sites for U.N. arms inspectors.

    But government-controlled newspapers bristled defiance.

    Annan should remember the United Nations was "an international organization, completely independent of the American administration, even if its headquarters is in New York," said the government daily Al-Jumhouriya

  • America's Roman Catholic cardinals have sent a letter to President Clinton urging him not to use air strikes against Iraq and saying such an action would be difficult to justify.

    In the letter issued by the Vatican to Rome-based media on Wednesday, the U.S. prelates also urged a re-examination of United Nations sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

    The letter brings Catholic leaders into conflict with the Clinton administration over yet another political and moral issue. The U.S. Catholic hierarchy is also at odds with the government over issues such as abortion and its embargo against Cuba. The fact that the Vatican circulated the American cardinals' letter underscored the importance the Holy See attaches to the issue.

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