Defense Secretary William Cohen said today the patience of the United States and its allies with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was “wearing thin.”
Cohen said the Iraqi leader’s attempts to divide what he said was a unified U.N. Security Council on the issue of international arms inspections in Iraq have increased the chances of open conflict over the issue.
“The Security Council is very committed that he must comply with the resolutions. There will be no relief from sanctions until he does so and further action awaits to be determined,” he said at a press conference here.
Cohen is in the midst of a 12-day Asia tour to discuss regional security issues and assess the impact of the recent economic upheaval in the region on military relations. But he has kept abreast of Iraqi developments through phone calls to Washington.
He was scheduled to arrive in Beijing later today for a three-day visit that will include a formal signing of an agreement on avoiding naval accidents at sea. He was winding up his Asia tour with visits next week to Japan and South Korea.
Cohen said recent statements from the White House and Congress reflected “the sentiment that patience is perhaps wearing thin. Patience is a virtue but it need not be eternal.”
Softening earlier remarks, he said the United States had no objections to Russia, France and other countries helping to supplement American U-2 spy planes in monitoring prohibited Iraqi weapons activities.
But he said such flights would be opposed if they undermined or degraded the American monitoring efforts.
U.S. Air Force U-2 planes, which can photograph ground activity from high altitudes, are supporting U.N. efforts to monitor Iraqi weapons installations for the presence or movement of any chemical or other prohibited weapons.
Iraq considers the U-2 flights a violation of its national sovereignty and has threatened to shoot them down. The country, however, agreed to the U.N. weapons inspection program as a condition for the U.S.-backed military alliance to end the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Before he flew here Friday from Singapore, Cohen said in an interview with The Associated Press that he believed Saddam was losing support in the international community for his efforts to limit U.N. weapons inspections.
“I have been gratified to see that some of the countries who have been more supportive of his position have expressed growing frustration,” Cohen told the AP. He did not identify the countries, but an aide said later he was referring to France and Russia.