Bush pushes for allies to disarm Iraq
DENVER — Saddam Hussein "has made the United Nations look foolish," President Bush said Monday as the White House told skeptical U.S. allies their credibility rides on the coming vote to disarm Iraq.
Even as they launched a final push for a U.N. resolution to allow war against Saddam's Iraq, administration officials said the vote could be pushed back a week. That would delay a high-stakes showdown, and possible split with the United Nations, until after the Nov. 5 congressional elections.
Holding out hope for agreement, Bush and his advisers carried out their strategy to convince allies that the United States will confront Iraq regardless of the vote's outcome. They hope to force a choice between backing Bush or looking irrelevant as he goes ahead without them.
"If the United Nations doesn't have the will or the courage to disarm Saddam Hussein, and if Saddam Hussein will not disarm, for the sake of peace, for the sake of freedom, the United States will lead a coalition to disarm Saddam Hussein," Bush said during a Western-state political swing.
The White House has said it wants a U.N. Security Council vote by the end of the week on a resolution that calls on Iraq to disarm or face consequences, with an implicit threat of military action. The five council members with veto power remain divided. Bush aides said negotiators made progress behind the scenes yesterday, and the president was open to letting the vote slip until next week if the extra time would help.
Russia and France want a more cautious approach that would lead to more debate, not war, if Saddam fails to comply with a new resolution. Bush did not appear to win new support for his position at last weekend's Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Mexico.
More than a hundred protesters waved signs and chanted anti-war slogans as Bush's motorcade arrived at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum here.
"Drop Bush, not bombs!" read one sign. "Bush no! War no!" read another.
White House officials said Bush is prepared for the worst at the United Nations, and will quickly build a coalition outside the international body if necessary.
Still, some presidential advisers said they expect 11th-hour negotiations will yield a resolution that, even if watered down from the initial U.S. plan, would be enough for Bush to claim international support for military action if Saddam fails to disarm.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said progress is being made. "We think we've narrowed down the differences to a few key issues," he said.
As the vote nears, the White House will try to take advantage of Bush's threat to act outside the United Nations — including, perhaps, raising doubts in public about the chances for agreement. That would increase pressure on nations that don't want to be left out if Bush moved without the United Nations, aides said.
Bush has not identified which nations would join his ad hoc coalition if the United Nations failed to act. Britain would be a logical partner. A few smaller nations, including Poland and Australia, have pledged their support.
Before returning to Washington yesterday, the president made political stops in New Mexico and Colorado to assist Republican candidates eight days before the Nov. 5 election. He urged voters to "do your job as an American" and participate in the election.
The speeches varied little from Bush's typical campaign-trail remarks, except for a marked sharpening of his rhetoric against Saddam and the United Nations.
"There is a real and dangerous threat to America in Iraq, in the form of Saddam Hussein," he said at a political rally in Alamogordo, N.M.
"This is a man who told the world that he wouldn't have weapons of mass destruction. He's got weapons of mass destruction. This is a man who has used weapons of mass destruction," Bush said. "He's used them against his neighbors. He's used them against his own people. This is a person who can't stand America. This is a man who's had contact with al-Qaida. This is a man who has defied international bodies."
"This is a person," Bush said, "who has made the United Nations look foolish."
In Denver, he said, "The leaders of the free world have a choice to make as to whether or not Saddam is going to be allowed to defy their resolutions and weaken their capacity to keep the peace."
Earlier, the president's spokesman said the United Nations doesn't have much longer to save face.
"This is coming down to the wire," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters aboard Air Force One. "The United Nations debated this long enough."
"The time has come for people to raise their hands and cast their vote to either announce they will return to the way of the '90s — a weak, ineffective system of inspections — or recognize that Saddam Hussein is taking advantage of weakness and the world needs to do something different," Fleischer said.
U.S. diplomats at the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell and perhaps the president himself will lobby allies, officials said.
Bush has set aside time in his schedule today and Wednesday to keep atop the U.N. debate.
The president does not return to the campaign trail until Thursday, though after that he will work for GOP candidates every day until the election.
Powell, meanwhile, engaged in busy telephone diplomacy. Over the weekend, he spoke to foreign ministers Dominique de Villepin of France, Igor Ivanov of Russia and Jack Straw of Britain and yesterday with de Villepin and Straw again.