WASHINGTON—President Bush and Saddam Hussein traded insults Thursday as Bush alerted the U.N. Security Council that the United States will act with its allies against Iraq if world leaders don't move to eliminate the Iraqi dictator's weapons of mass destruction.
At the U.N., Iraq's Foreign Minister Naji Sabri read a letter from Saddam declaring that his country was "clear of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons" and inviting U.N. weapons inspectors to come and see without conditions.
He accused Bush of lying about Iraq's weapons out of lust for oil and loyalty to Israel.
"The U.S. administration wants to destroy Iraq to control the Middle East oil, and consequently control the politics as well as the oil and economic policies of the whole world," Saddam's letter said.
Bush mocked it.
"I didn't hear it. Let me guess: `The United States is guilty. The world doesn't understand, we don't have any weapons of mass destruction.' It's the same old song and dance that we've heard for 11 long years," Bush told reporters at the White House.
Bush sent Congress a proposed resolution Thursday seeking authority to use all means, "including force," to ensure that Iraq no longer has weapons of mass destruction.
"The United Nations Security Council must show backbone, must step up and hold this regime to account," Bush said. "Otherwise, the United States and some of our friends will do so."
Iraqi Foreign Minister Sabri coupled Iraq's invitation for unfettered inspections with the hope that it would eventually lead to a lifting of sanctions against Iraq. But Saddam's letter also said that previous U.N. resolutions were "unjust" and that previous inspections were tainted by inspectors spying on Iraq.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, testifying before Congress, voiced doubt that Iraq will cooperate with new U.N. inspections.
"Many U.N. members, including some on the Security Council, want to take Iraq at its word and send inspectors back in without any new resolution or new authority. This is a recipe for failure and we will not support it," Powell said.
Powell called Iraq's agreement to re-admit U.N. weapons inspectors a "tactical ploy," and said the U.N. speech by the Iraqi foreign minister showed that Baghdad had no intention of making good on its pledge.
Powell warned that the United States would "find ways to thwart" any attempt by the Security Council to send inspectors back to Iraq without giving them greater powers. He did not elaborate.
Following a briefing of the U.N. Security Council, chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said Iraq's cooperation was essential to successful inspections.
"I think the criterion is cooperation on all respects," Blix told reporters. "Without cooperation on all respects, it will be difficult for any inspections." Blix said he hopes to get the first inspectors on the ground in Iraq by Oct. 15.
The administration's latest tough talk came as public support grows for a confrontation with Iraq. Americans increasingly believe that Bush is making a clear case for military action against Iraq, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center. Some 52 percent now believe that, up from only 37 percent one month ago.
Bush made clear that he does not want Congress to place any hurdles before him.
"If you want to keep the peace, you've got to have the authorization to use force," Bush said at the White House after meeting with Powell. "This is a chance for Congress to indicate support, a chance for Congress to say, `We support the administration's ability to keep the peace.' "
House Speaker Dennis Hastert expects a House of Representatives vote on the congressional resolution during the first week of October. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has said the Senate will vote before adjourning next month too.
Bush faces a more difficult task at the U.N., where he is trying to muster support for a new U.N. decree mandating the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq with strict timelines and the destruction of any nuclear, chemical or biological weapons found there. The president wants the U.N. to spell out specific consequences if Iraq does not comply.
Russia and France, two Security Council members with the power to veto a U.N. resolution, have said they want to see whether Iraq's proposal to allow inspectors yields results.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, in Washington on Thursday for meetings with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Powell, said Russia believes that new U.N. inspections that include U.S. and Russian experts could root out Iraq's illicit weapons programs.
In Congress, Republicans immediately embraced Bush's proposed resolution on the use of force. "It sounds good to me," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
"It's time to quit waffling and weaseling around," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.
But differences dividing Democrats became apparent during a closed-door evening session of Senate Democrats. The reaction from senators emerging from the meeting ranged from qualified support to outright opposition.
Several said the language of the White House proposal is overly broad. The draft says Bush has authority to use force to enforce prior U.N. Security Council resolutions against Iraq, to defend the United States against the "threat posed by Iraq," and to "restore international peace and security in the region."
"How big is the region?," asked Sen. John Breaux, D-La. "There's a lot of legitimate discussion about that."
"It appears to actually authorize the president to do virtually anything anywhere in the Middle East," complained Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.
But Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said he was "confident the administration will do the right thing."
He said the White House proposal was merely a draft that had "not been flyspecked by the administration" and could be altered.
Other Democrats also warmed to the president's proposal.
"The most effective way to build the broadest possible international coalition is to show a united, bipartisan U.S. commitment," Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., told reporters after a White House meeting. "It's far preferable that this be done multilaterally than unilaterally. But in the end of the day, we think this is a job that needs to be done—however it has be done."
Others feared Iraq is too great a distraction from the war on terror.
"The number one objective should be to go after those who came after us on 9-11,"
Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., said during a hearing with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "My concern is that we are shifting the objective here."
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he would prefer a resolution that would allow the president to use force as part of an international U.N. force. He said the resolution should demand that the U.N. authorize its members to enforce a deadline for Iraq to disarm.
"U.N.-authorized force is more appropriate.," he said. "It's a lot different to have Saddam looking down the barrel of a gun that is held to him by the world than it is for us to be acting on our own."
Even some Republicans voiced worries about a military operation in Iraq. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he would likely vote for the Bush resolution.
"That doesn't mean that I don't have strong reservations about how this is going to be conducted," he said, noting that he has posed a number of questions to administration officials. "I haven't been overly impressed with their answers, quite frankly.
Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifying with Rumsfeld, assured senators that the United States would be able to carry out both a broad war on terror and a specific campaign against Iraq. He noted that ongoing operations use only 15 to 20 percent of major combat units, such as carriers, fighters and bomber aircraft and heavy and light Army divisions.
But he said that if any new operations required more specialized forces, the United States would need the help of allies.
(Knight Ridder correspondents Ron Hutcheson, Sumana Chatterjee and Jonathan S. Landay contributed to this report.)
(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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