Background: New Offer by Britain
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GWEN IFILL: Prime Minister Tony Blair, facing pressure at home to pass a new Iraq resolution at the U.N., told parliament today, he’s working flat out to do just that.
TONY BLAIR: I hope that even now, those countries that are saying they will use their veto, whatever the circumstances, will reconsider and realize that by doing so, they put at risk not just the disarmament of Saddam, but actually the unity of the United Nations.
GWEN IFILL: Blair reaffirmed Great Britain’s alliance with the U.S., even as lawmakers recoiled at comments Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld made yesterday, suggesting the U.S. may not need Britain to go to war.
DONALD RUMSFELD: And to the extent that they are able to participate in the event that the president decides to use force, that would obviously be welcomed. To the extent they’re not, there are workarounds, and they would not be involved.
GWEN IFILL: So far, there are 45,000 British troops in the Persian Gulf, standing by in case of war. Rumsfeld’s comments reportedly shocked the Blair government, and today Rumsfeld’s office issued a “clarification.” It said: “We have every reason to believe there will be a significant military contribution from the United Kingdom.”
At the U.N., British diplomats floated a new compromise designed to win over-wavering Security Council members. In order to avert war, Saddam Hussein would have to meet six benchmarks, or tests. He must say on Iraqi TV that he’s hidden weapons of mass destruction, and pledge to get rid of them. He must account for and destroy biological and chemical weapons, like anthrax and the mobile facilities that make them. He would also have to destroy missiles deemed illegal by the U.N., send 30 key scientists to Cyprus to be interviewed by weapons inspectors, and account for any unmanned drone planes, which may be able to launch deadly weapons. In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that if Iraq meets the conditions, U.N. inspectors would have time to verify it.
JACK STRAW: What we want, in a matter of days, is clear proof that Saddam has now made a strategic decision to cooperate actively, fully, and immediately, with the weapons inspectors. Dr. Blix, in his most current report, the one he issued last Friday, said that the inspection process, within a benign, cooperative environment, would probably take a matter of months. And we accept that.
GWEN IFILL: The U.N. ambassador from Russia, who opposes the resolution, said any compromise must preserve the role of the inspectors.
SERGEY LAVROV: It’s obvious resolutions require inspectors to submit to Council’s approval. And if the UK is ready to go in the same direction, I welcome this.
GWEN IFILL: And at the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said the conditions, whether benchmarks or tests, must still meet the U.S. Bottom line.
RICHARD BOUCHER: There is a distinction, not much of one, but there is one. And the distinction is that we have always said again, and again, and again: Iraq needs to demonstrate it’s made the strategic decision to disarm, to disarm peacefully, to fess-up and get right with the world.
GWEN IFILL: Boucher said the British proposal might serve a purpose, but is still a work in progress.