White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters that “[Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein’s words cannot be taken at face value,” and said a U.N. failure to spell out its requirements for Iraq would allow Saddam’s government to continue pursuing weapons of mass destruction.
“Now is not the time to take off the pressure on Iraq,” Fleischer said. “The president thinks that now is even more so the time for the U.N. and Congress to act so that Saddam Hussein will know that the world is serious and Congress is serious, and anything less would give Saddam Hussein more room to maneuver with the creation of weapons of mass destruction.”
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced Monday evening that Iraq said it would allow weapons inspectors to return to the country after a four-year hiatus to check for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
The move came amid heightened tensions with the U.S. over Iraq’s alleged weapons capabilities. U.S. officials, including President Bush in an address to the U.N. last Thursday, had warned about the possibility of U.S. military intervention in Iraq to neutralize Saddam’s ability to make war.
Iraqi officials have denied they possess such weapons, but Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said that his country would comply with U.N. regulations.
“If the inspectors come and act honestly, professionally … they can reach the truth within a reasonable time. But if the Americans are using this as a pretext, they might use some other way in order to commit an aggression against Iraq,” Aziz said.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday he would continue to apply pressure on U.N. leaders to hammer out a resolution that would specifically list past Iraqi violations, explain the steps Iraq must take to comply and detail the consequences Iraq will face if it does not.
“Remember, the issue is not inspection, it is disarmament,” Powell told reporters. “We will press for a resolution. If they [the Iraqis] are serious, they will want one.”
During a meeting Tuesday with Powell and other officials, Russia’s Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said he didn’t think any new resolutions were necessary, but acknowledged his concern that Iraq possessed weapons.
“Now our main task is to ensure that the inspectors can get to Iraq as soon as possible and start their work,” said Ivanov.
Also Tuesday, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said chief U.N. weapons inspector Hanz Blix was scheduled to meet later in the day with Iraqi officials. Eckhard said Blix was expected to talk with the Iraqis about “practical arrangements” for returning inspectors to Baghdad.