President Bush on Thursday urged the world body to act quickly on a new resolution that would force Saddam’s government to disarm, warning that if the UN does not act, the U.S. will. UN weapons inspectors have not had access to the country since 1998, causing concern that Iraq could be developing weapons of mass destruction.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told reporters Friday that Iraq would only agree to the return of weapons inspectors if it is “written on their eyeballs” that refusing another resolution will lead to military action. Straw’s words reiterated the United Kingdom’s firm support of the U.S. stance against Saddam.
“Iraq will only respond to a demand to get the weapons inspectors back…if it is written on their eyeballs that unless they do the consequences will be very severe for them. That is the nature of the regime — they play games,” Straw said.
Other European leaders welcomed the president’s plan to work with the UN, but avoided commenting on the potential for unilateral U.S. action.
Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said Thursday she agreed with Mr. Bush that Iraq must comply with Security Council resolutions immediately and without extraneous conditions. When asked if she expected the U.S. to go to war with Iraq, she echoed a widespread sentiment: “What is important is to wait [to see] if Iraq gives in to the demand to allow weapons inspectors to resume their work.”
But German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he had not been swayed in his opposition to a potential military invasion of Iraq, saying President Bush has left too many questions unanswered.
“My arguments against military intervention remain, and it is still clear that under my leadership, Germany will not participate in military action,” Schroeder told his parliament in a floor debate Friday.
China, traditionally a friend to Iraq and one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council with veto power, urged Iraq to comply with UN measures “in an earnest manner” according to the official Chinese Xinhua News Agency.
“The Iraqi issue should be resolved within the framework of the United Nations,” China’s Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan was quoted as saying in reaction to President Bush’s speech.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key Arab leader, expressed support for a potential diplomatic solution to the crisis through the UN, while also urging Iraq to abide by future Security Council measures.
“In this light, I call upon the Iraqi leadership to seize this opportunity … and avoid serious repercussions,” Mubarak said in an interview with Egypt’s semi-official Middle East News Agency.
The wave of international reaction comes as Secretary Powell prepares to meet Friday with members of the Security Council to begin talks on the possibility of a new resolution that would call on Iraq to provide UN weapons inspectors free access or face serious consequences.
Meanwhile, Iraq and the White House traded barbs on the likelihood of the Iraqi government abiding by a future UN resolution and allowing weapons inspectors back into the country with free access.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz rejected Mr. Bush’s demand for the return of weapons inspectors on Friday saying the president’s speech was “full of lies” and that such a move would not stop U.S. military plans for an invasion.
“The return of inspectors without conditions will not solve the problem…because we have had a bad experience with them,” Aziz told Arab satellite station MBC. “Is it clever to repeat an experience that failed and did not prevent aggression?”
White House spokesman Ari Fleisher was quick to respond, saying in a Friday briefing that Iraq’s rejection of the president’s demands shows that they have “something to hide.”
Earlier Friday, President Bush was quoted as saying he was “highly doubtful” that Saddam would abide by future UN measures and called on the Security Council to act in the coming “days and weeks, not months and years.”