January 30, 1998 in Nation/World

U.S. Gains Support To Use Force On Iraq ‘All Options Open’ French Tell Albright

Robin Wright Los Angeles Times

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright won qualified French endorsement Thursday for use of military force against Iraq if necessary to get Baghdad to comply with the U.N. weapons inspections program.

After talks here with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, Albright said Washington and Paris agreed they no longer will tolerate a “very grave” crisis for which Iraq is “fully responsible.”

Albright also warned Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that the world was “standing together” and that he could no longer “thwart” the international community’s demand that Baghdad allow unfettered inspections aimed at eliminating its weapons of mass destruction.

After months of trying to get Baghdad to give U.N. inspectors access to disputed presidential sites in Iraq, the diplomatic options are now “all but exhausted,” she told a news conference here. The time is “fast approaching,” she said, “for fundamental decisions. … The patience of the international community is running out.”

She also expressed deep concern about what may be happening inside Iraq now that inspectors cannot freely investigate whether Iraq is creating or stockpiling chemical and biological weapons.

France still hopes diplomacy will lead to an 11th-hour solution that will avert the need for military action, Vedrine said. But, he pointedly added, “All options are open.”

“When the French foreign minister says ‘All options are open,’ we welcome that kind of support,” Albright said later on ABC’s “Nightline.”

While Russian officials in Moscow complained about remarks by Richard Butler, the Australian who heads the U.N. inspections program and who asserted that Iraq has the capability to “blow away Tel Aviv,” France’s top diplomat paid tribute to the work of the inspectors.

Vedrine said he hoped Saddam understood that he could not impose any conditions on their work or access to Baghdad’s weapons of mass destruction. “This is absolutely basic,” he warned.

Albright is to fly to Madrid, Spain, today to meet Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov, who has been the leading advocate and activist searching for a diplomatic alternative. They will be joined by Viktor Posuvalyuk, a Russian foreign ministry official who just concluded talks in Baghdad.

Both Russia and France - which have long ties to and big economic interests in the region - have been searching for face-saving compromises that would persuade Baghdad to comply with the U.N. disarmament mission. After Iraq offered to allow diplomats rather than weapons inspectors into the disputed presidential sites, France suggested that both diplomats and inspectors be given access to facilities.

But in the U.S., lawmakers on Capitol Hill considered a resolution Thursday to “take all necessary and appropriate actions to respond to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction.”

Baghdad remained defiant Thursday. In comments to mark the start of the feast that ends the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Saddam said the “faithful will be victorious. … If the devil pushes these enemies into evil and aggression and they attack us, we will be forced to fight them and all our capabilities,” the Iraqi news agency quoted him as saying.

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