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Bush: I'll press for new U.N. vote
Unmoved by international anti-war protests and unfazed by fresh condemnation at the United Nations, President Bush said Tuesday that he will press for a new U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing force to disarm Iraq but would not wait long to see results.
Bush administration officials said the United States and Britain could submit a draft resolution before the week is out containing simple wording that declares Iraq to be in further "material breach" of its disarmament obligations and therefore subject to the "serious consequences" threatened by the Security Council in November.
Any such resolution even implicitly authorizing war against Iraq might not win over a majority of Security Council nations and could draw a veto from France, worsening the split between Washington and some of its key European allies. But administration officials said they had to weigh such potential political damage against the risk that they say Iraq's weapons of mass destruction pose to U.S. security.
Postponing consideration of a new resolution until March 14, as France suggested last week, is "way too long," one administration official said.
"All we're trying to figure out now is when we call it quits and force people to the table" by presenting a new Security Council resolution for a vote, said the official, who declined to be named.
Bush said he would not be swayed by the millions of anti-war protesters who turned out in major cities around the world last weekend, arguing that responding to the "size of protests" would be akin to setting policy according to focus groups.
"Democracy is a beautiful thing," the president said at the White House after swearing in William Donaldson as the new chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. "People are allowed to express their opinion, and I welcome people's right to say what they believe. [But] evidently some in the world don't view Saddam Hussein as a risk to peace. I respectfully disagree."
Bush added that "Saddam Hussein is a threat to America, and we will deal with him."
But the Pentagon's war plans hit a snag Tuesday when the Turkish parliament deferred consideration of a U.S. request to base tens of thousands of troops on Turkish soil, a deployment that would be essential if the Pentagon is to open a northern front in any war in Iraq.
Turkish officials were insisting that Washington provide more than $30 billion in foreign aid and loan guarantees to protect Turkey from the feared economic fallout of a war in neighboring Iraq -- a package at least $6 billion bigger than the Bush administration had offered, diplomats said.
As negotiations over U.S. access to the Turkish bases dragged on over the last month, administration officials had often expressed confidence that Ankara would ultimately agree rather than risk a split with its most important strategic ally.
But on Tuesday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer did not sound as certain.
"Turkey has some important decisions to make," Fleischer said.
In another setback to the administration's campaign against Iraq, Canada, traditionally one of Washington's closest allies, announced Tuesday that it would not contribute military forces to any U.S.-led "coalition of the willing" conducted outside of U.N. approval.
"We have not been asked and we do not intend to participate in a group of the willing," Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien told Parliament. "The policy of the government is very clear: If there has to be military activity in Iraq, we want it to be approved by the U.N. Security Council."
At the U.N., the Bush administration is arguing that force may be necessary because Iraq has failed to cooperate sufficiently with U.N. weapons inspectors and refuses to voluntarily surrender its suspected chemical, biological and nuclear weapons materials. But France, Germany, China and Russia have led resistance on the Security Council to any resort to war, arguing instead that inspections have shown some progress and should therefore be extended.
Bush said Tuesday that "war is my last choice, but the risk of doing nothing is even a worse option."
He said that a second U.N. resolution would be "useful" but was not necessary for him to order an invasion to disarm Hussein. Instead, the president suggested, a second resolution is more important for the legitimacy of the United Nations, allowing it to demonstrate that it remains relevant and that its will -- expressed in numerous resolutions commanding Iraq to disarm over the last 12 years -- cannot be defied.
"I want the United Nations to be an effective body," Bush said. "I think it's in our country's interest that it be effective. And we'll see whether or not it's got the capacity to be effective."
But a number of nations represented at the U.N. made clear Tuesday that they do not feel the world body's credibility rests on a readiness to authorize war against Iraq.
During the first of two days of largely symbolic debate in the General Assembly -- the real decisions are made by the 15-member Security Council -- some 60 countries lined up to criticize what they view as Bush's "rush to war" and to demand that U.N. weapons inspectors be given more time to do their work in Iraq.
"None of the information provided thus far would seem to justify the Security Council abandoning the inspection process and immediately resorting to the threatened `serious consequences,'" said South Africa's U.N. ambassador, Dumisani Kumalo, speaking on behalf of 115 mainly developing countries in the Non-Aligned Movement.
Fleischer said the president was "committed to going forward" with a new Security Council resolution and that it would likely be "relatively simple and straightforward."
Other officials said the resolution could reiterate that Iraq remains in material breach of previous Security Council disarmament resolutions and, in an attempt to mollify war opponents, might not contain an explicit authorization to use "all necessary means" to bring Iraq into compliance -- diplomatic language for war.
Existing language threatening Iraq with "serious consequences" constitutes sufficient approval for the use of military force, the White House argues.
But the administration also is weighing an alternative resolution that could spell out a final deadline for Baghdad to comply with specific disarmament milestones. These could include allowing expanded interviews with weapons scientists and permitting the destruction of certain battlefield missiles that weapons inspectors have determined exceed distance limits imposed by the U.N.
Such an ultimatum might win broader Security Council support because it would answer critics who insist that the inspections should be given more time to work.
But the danger of such a resolution, administration hawks contend, is that it could give Hussein another opportunity to feign cooperation and further divide the Security Council.
The chief weapons inspectors "have already pointed to numerous Iraqi omissions and violations," one official said. "We don't need any more tests or benchmarks to figure out if there will be further material breaches."