Published September 07, 2002
WASHINGTON – The leaders of Russia, France and China agreed Friday to President Bush's personal appeal to hear the U.S. case for action against Iraq but gave no sign they would yield to it.
"We need to work together to make the world more peaceful," Bush argued in three back-to-back phone calls that lasted but 30 minutes altogether and marked the start of an uphill campaign to soften overseas objections to his Iraq policy.
The president's only specific request of his three counterparts was that they receive the top-level officials he will dispatch to Paris, Moscow and Beijing next week to present the American case against Saddam, an administration official said.
And though all three agreed, the word from overseas was that Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Jacques Chirac stood firm in opposing any unilateral U.S. action against Iraq. Chinese officials said almost nothing about President Jiang Zemin's call from Bush.
Each leader could use his nation's seat on the U.N. Security Council to veto resolutions aimed at Saddam. The Bush team is at work on a proposed resolution setting a deadline for Iraq to admit weapons inspectors or risk punitive action.
Bush did not broach any discussion of weapons inspections, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.
"The president heard messages of openness, a willingness to listen," said Fleischer, briefing reporters on Bush's conversations. "But it is fair to say that each of these three leaders has various thoughts of their own."
Chirac reiterated to Bush that any military action against Baghdad must be decided at the United Nations.
"If Iraq continues to refuse to allow weapons inspectors to return, then it is up to the Security Council to take appropriate measures," spokeswoman Catherine Colonna quoted Chirac as saying. "That will be the time to debate these measures."
Putin, whose government recently forged a multi-billion-dollar economic pact with Iraq, reportedly told Bush that Russia has serious reservations about using force to topple Saddam.
Putin, whom Bush reached in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, stuck to the Russian position that there is real potential for a political solution to the Iraq threat. According to a statement from the Kremlin press service, Putin also spoke with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and expressed doubts that military action against Iraq would comply with international law.
Bush says he has not decided how to get rid of Saddam but is convinced that a regime change is the only way to quash Iraq's aspirations for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
"We believe a policy of diplomatic steps and decisions might allow us to find a long-term settlement of the situation around Iraq, which would meet the interests of regional stability," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters.
A two-sentence report by China's official Xinhua News Agency said only that Jiang and Bush discussed "international and regional affairs" and U.S.-Chinese relations. Earlier this week, China welcomed Baghdad's foreign minister to Beijing to reaffirm their countries' "extremely friendly ties."
At Camp David on Saturday, Bush will meet with Blair, who, in principle, has backed a military attack to remove Saddam, despite strong reservations among Britons.
The prime minister worked the phones Friday in tandem with Bush, speaking also with Chirac and meeting in London with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud.
"What is important ... is that at moments of crisis (Americans) don't need to know simply that you are giving general expressions of support and sympathy," Blair told British Broadcasting Corp.
"That is easy, frankly," he added. "They need to know: Are you prepared to commit, are you prepared to be there when the shooting starts?"
Bush, who promises to consult with allies even as he says he will not change his mind, meets with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien in Detroit on Monday. While in New York for Sept. 11 observances next week, Bush is slated to address the United Nations General Assembly.
Last year's terrorist attacks were evoked in his Friday phone calls, with Putin, Chirac and Jiang each expressing a "sentiment of solidarity" with Americans as they pause for this grim anniversary, Fleischer said.
While courting naysayers abroad, Bush was also trying to build support at home for a congressional resolution giving him authority to act against Saddam.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle indicated that he will not be rushed to judgment. Daschle was among lawmakers briefed Thursday by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, and CIA Director George Tenet.
"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 said in a television appearance.
Meanwhile, Iraqi ambassador Mohammed Aldouri insisted that Saddam and his country "no longer belong to this club of mass destruction weapons." The ambassador said, "We have no such weapons at all, no chemical weapons, no biological weapons."
Shown a tape of the ambassador's interview, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott fired back: "If there were a question of truth or consequences, he just failed. If this is not true, let inspectors in unfettered."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.