Bush Sets Monday Deadline for Diplomatic Track on Iraq to Work
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 16, 2003 Monday is the deadline for allowing diplomacy to find a solution to Iraq, President Bush said today.
Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso, who hosted the Azores summit, called it "the last chance of a political solution (for Iraq). It may be a small chance, but if there is only one chance in a million, it's worth trying this opportunity."
Bush met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, and the three men discussed ways to see through the impasse in the United Nations.
Bush said the men concluded that March 17 "is a moment of truth for the world." He said that many nations have voiced a commitment to peace and security. He called on them to demonstrate that commitment now in the only effective way: by supporting the immediate and unconditional disarmament of Saddam Hussein.
"The dictator of Iraq and his weapons of mass destruction are a threat to the security of free nations," the president said. "He is a danger to his neighbors. He is a sponsor of terrorism and an obstacle to peace in the Middle East. For decades he has been a cruel, cruel oppressor of the Iraqi people."
The summit was held on the 15th anniversary of Saddam Hussein's slaughter of Iraqi Kurds in Halabja. Hussein ordered chemical weapons dropped on the city. Experts estimate that more than 5,000 men, women and children died in the attack, with another 10,000 wounded.
"With a single order the Iraqi regime killed thousands of men, women and children without mercy or without shame," Bush said. "Saddam Hussein has proven he is capable of any crime; we cannot allow his crimes to reach across the world."
Bush stated U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 was meant to be the last resolution on Iraq. It called for immediate disarmament of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and full and complete cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors. If the Iraqis failed to comply, the resolution called for severe consequences.
Bush said the logic of the resolution is inescapable. "The Iraqi regime will disarm itself, or the Iraqi regime will be disarmed by force," he said.
Aznar said through a translator that the three leaders came to the Azores "not to make a declaration of war. We were coming after having made every possible effort." He noted the nations worked together in the Security Council "to achieve the greatest possible agreement and for international law to be respected and for U.N. resolutions to be respected."
Aznar declared the three leaders will continue to work diplomacy hard for what little time remains.
Blair said the United States, Britain and Spain have worked for four and a half months to get Saddam to cooperate fully and unconditionally as Resolution 1441 calls for. He said the three countries approached the Security Council for a clear ultimatum to Iraq. "This is the impasse we have because some say there should be no ultimatum, no authorization of force in any new U.N. resolution," he said.
"Instead (they call for) more discussion in the event of non-compliance," the British prime minister noted. "The truth is, without a credible ultimatum ... then more discussion is just more delay, with Saddam remaining armed with weapons of mass destruction and continuing a brutal murderous regime in Iraq."
Blair said the international community would play into Hussein's hands by being tied up with "perpetual negotiations and gestures designed to divide community, but never concrete cooperation leading to disarmament."
According to Pentagon officials, there are 250,000 American service members in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. The United Kingdom has more than 30,000 in the area and other nations have contributed troops and materials to the effort.