Mr. Bush called French President Jacques Chirac, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin from the Oval Office and discussed their concerns about a pre-emptive U.S. strike on Iraq. The three countries, along with the United States and Britain, compose the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and could use their vote to veto future resolutions aimed at Baghdad.
The president told the leaders that he planned to send U.S. diplomats to all three nations before his scheduled address the UN General Assembly on Sept. 12.
But a spokeswoman for President Chirac said the French leader was not convinced by the call and repeated his position that any military action must be approved by the UN Security Council. In Moscow, Russia’s RIA news agency reported that the President Putin also appeared unconvinced, telling British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he had “deep doubts that there are grounds for the use of force in connection with Iraq.”
Blair has emerged as the president’s closest ally in his campaign against Saddam. In another expression of support for the White House, Blair told the BBC that Britain must be prepared to pay a “blood price” to secure its special relationship with the U.S.
The British prime minister engaged in his own diplomatic effort on the Iraq issue late this week, telephoning leaders in Europe and meeting with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal. Mr. Blair is scheduled to travel to the U.S. to meet with the president Saturday at his Camp David, Maryland retreat.
The German government made moves Friday to soften its previous rhetoric against the U.S. stance on Iraq. A spokesman for Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the German leader sent a letter to President Bush to express “the close attachment of the whole German people with American people,” and express solidarity on the fight against terror.
The tone of Schroeder’s letter comes in contrast to earlier statements by the German leader that his country remained opposed to military action against Iraq and won’t “submit” to Washington.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Friday that Washington would warn Israel before any U.S. action so that it can prepare for potential retaliatory strike from Iraq.
“We will know ahead of time when the United States will act,” Sharon told Israeli Army Radio. “They [the U.S.] were exceptionally fair before they attacked Afghanistan. They called me, I think, two-and-a-half days before and told me the date.”
Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel during the 1991 Gulf War that caused heavy damage but little injury. At the urging of the U.S., Israel did not retaliate against Iraq in order to preserve the Arab coalition in support of the war.
Questions about Iraq were also issued on the domestic front as Congress prepares for weeks of hearings and debate on whether to support military action against Saddam. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Friday that he would not be rushed to judgement on the issue.
“All I would say is that some of our questions were answered but there are a lot more out there that need to be addressed, ” Daschle told the NBC “Today” program.
Meanwhile, Iraq accused U.S. and British warplanes of striking civilian targets while patrolling no fly zones southwest of Baghdad. Iraq claims to have chased off the attacking jets with anti-aircraft batteries.
The U.S. military confirmed the skirmish, saying that American and British planes attacked an air defense command and control facility 240 miles southwest of the Iraqi capital.
“We were fired upon and we responded,” Brig. Gen. John Rosa, the deputy operations director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon press conference. “We’ve done that for the last 10 or 11 years and we’ll continue to do that.”