As many as 3,000 more U.S. ground troops are expected to be sent to Kuwait to deter Iraq from invading in retaliation for a threatened U.S. air strike, Defense Department officials said Monday as diplomatic efforts to diffuse the crisis intensified.
Gen. Anthony Zinni, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, asked for the troops as a precaution, and Secretary of Defense William Cohen is expected to approve the request. The troops would join 1,500 Army soldiers already in Kuwait, supported by some 2,200 Marines in transit there.
Meanwhile, a flurry of diplomatic initiatives expanded in an effort to head off the threatened strike on Iraq. So did congressional debate over the crisis. But for all the talk, the basic dispute at the heart of the conflict remains.
Saddam Hussein still refuses to admit United Nations inspectors to many sites suspected of housing weapons of mass destruction, and the Clinton administration still insists that unless the Iraqi president yields completely within weeks, U.S. and British air power will attack and try to cripple his weapons-making capacity.
“Do not doubt, we have the authority to do this, the responsibility to do this and the means and the will,” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Monday in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute here.
Saddam, for his part, dispatched three high-ranking officials around the Arab world to counter U.S. diplomatic forays and to solidify opposition to any U.S. military strike.
His foreign minister went to Syria and planned to visit Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan before returning to Baghdad. His deputy prime minister went to Morocco, and his justice minister to Yemen.
The White House announced that U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson will visit Japan and China later this week, continuing consultations with leading powers on the crisis.
Meanwhile Jordan’s King Hussein met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London and telephoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Iranian President Mohammed Khatami. And the Arab League of 22 member nations floated a proposal to create a special U.N. team to inspect eight of Saddam’s palace compounds while permitting regular U.N. inspections at 60 other Iraqi sites.
Anne Luzzatto, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, made clear that while the Clinton administration hopes for a diplomatic solution, it will accept no compromise; the only acceptable result is for Saddam to open Iraq fully to U.N. inspection without conditions.
“That is the outcome that we insist on, that must happen, that the UNSCOM team has unfettered, free access to all sites when it chooses,” said Luzzatto.
She dismissed a British newspaper report that Washington had given Saddam a Feb. 17 deadline to comply or face attack. “There are no time lines and no deadlines,” Luzzatto said.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., amplified his recent suggestions that the Clinton administration expand its tactics beyond a one-time air strike to aim at a long-term goal of toppling Saddam.
“There are a number of things that can be done between just pure diplomacy and a military action,” Lott said. “We should be more supportive of democratic factions wherever we can find them in Iraq. We could consider expanding the no-fly” area in Iraq.
The White House official said those suggestions and others are “part of our planning process” and “will be considered” as U.S. policy toward Iraq evolves, but are not relevant to the immediate showdown.
“Stay tuned,” the official said. “Those are all things that could be done to make Saddam pay a price for his noncompliance” with U.N. mandates “and to further our own objectives in the region. I wouldn’t rule them out.”
Opinion among Senate Republicans appears to be coalescing behind taking both short- and long-term actions aimed at rousting Saddam from power through subversion and civil warfare.
The Senate is expected to take up a nonbinding, bipartisan resolution later this week that would broadly empower Clinton, but would require him to consult closely with Congress as he proceeds.
For now, Republicans support major air strikes against the pillars of Saddam’s power - his Republican Guard forces, military communications systems, civilian communications infrastructure, palaces and all suspected sites where chemical, biological and nuclear weapons are stored or made. They also say any strikes should target missile-launchers capable of delivering such ordnance.
Over the long term, the Republicans argued, the United States should employ a Cold War-style strategy of subversion, sabotage and propaganda to encourage dissident elements in Iraq to depose Saddam.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: World girds for war Other developments around the world Monday in the Iraq crisis: Baghdad Iraq plans to scatter soldiers of the elite Republican Guard throughout the country, putting them up in schools and other government buildings, for their own protection from any American attack. Washington - Secretary of State Madeleine Albright rules out any massive military invasion, saying the Clinton administration does not want hundreds of thousands of American troops fighting a ground war in Iraq. Kuwait - Defense Secretary William Cohen visits Al-Jaber Air Base, which could be used to launch a strike on Iraq. Against a backdrop of fighter jets, he tells U.S. soldiers force will be used only “when diplomacy fails.” Israel - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu orders the nation to prepare its civil defense, health services and police forces for any Iraqi attack. Israel borrows 180,000 kits from Germany that protect against chemical and biological weapons. Delivery is to begin this week. Canada - Prime Minister Jean Chretien said his country supports the use of military force against Iraq if diplomatic efforts fail to end an impasse over U.N. weapons inspections.