WASHINGTON – The Bush administration stepped up pressure Tuesday for a new U.N. Security Council disarmament resolution for Iraq and disclosed plans for moving B-2 bombers closer to Baghdad, preparing for possible war to remove President Saddam Hussein.
President George W. Bush, speaking Tuesday in Nashville, Tennessee, said the United Nations must show that it is more than an "ineffective debating society" in confronting years of Iraq's flouting of council disarmament resolutions.
Russia is among countries having second thoughts about a new resolution after Iraq promised unfettered access for U.N. weapons inspectors. The inspectors left Iraq in December 1998 and have not been allowed back.
"For the sake of liberty and justice for all, the United Nations Security Council must act; must act in a way to hold this regime to account. It must not be fooled," Bush said.
Bush has raised the specter of military action to remove Saddam from power if the Iraqi leader fails to take steps to disarm. He wants that authority to be included, at least implicitly, in any new Security Council resolution.
As a signal to the Iraqis, officials said Tuesday the administration is seeking permission from Britain to base a small number of Air Force B-2 stealth bombers on the island of Diego Garcia in the northern Indian Ocean.
The B-2's normally are based on U.S. territory, and deploying them in the Indian Ocean site would cut flight time in half.
On the diplomatic front, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov challenged the U.S. demand for a new resolution. He said there should be "no artificial delays" blocking the return of the inspectors.
"We don't need any special resolution," Ivanov said. He said the inspectors "should go to Iraq and get down to discharging their functions" of determining how many weapons Iraq possesses.
Russia's stand is crucial because of its role as a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council.
In Washington, Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed Iraq's offer as the "sort of thing we've heard before."
Citing a lengthy list of Saddam's past promises, Cheney told a Republican Party fund-raiser that Iraq's lack of credibility was immediately evident in contention that it has no weapons of mass destruction.
Cheney said, for instance, that Saddam has "begun to reconstitute his nuclear programs. We've seen a growing level of threat, He's back at it again."
The vice president said he spent the better part of his day on Capitol Hill pressing lawmakers to "authorize whatever force might be necessary."
"Time is not on our side," Cheney said. "A nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein is not a pleasant prospect for anybody."
Bush will have a chance to make his case directly to the Russians on Friday when he meets with Ivanov and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.
The president invited the four top congressional leaders to the White House for a meeting on Wednesday as administration advisers worked on the terms of legislation that would give Bush the authority to use "all appropriate means" to force Iraq's disarmament, an administration official said.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Tom Daschle said, "I think there will be a vote well before the election." The comments represented a shift for Daschle, D-S.D., who had earlier declined to predict the timing of a vote.
Some Senate Democrats said they wanted to see how inspections played out before authorizing military action.
"If they (inspections) fail, then we can consider a lot of options," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
A letter Monday night from Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri offering unfettered U.N. inspections changed the political dynamic here, leaving delegates wondering whether the Bush administration would be able to achieve its goal of a strongly worded resolution.
Secretary of State Colin Powell argued forcefully for a new one, saying it's the only way to avoid repeating abuses of the past.
Powell said Iraq agreed to allow the inspectors' return only because the "entire international community" united in opposition to Iraq after Bush's speech to the General Assembly last Thursday.
Meanwhile, the U.N. body that would travel to Iraq is the United Nations Monitoring, Inspection and Verification Commission, led by Hans Blix, a veteran arms expert.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the inspection team "is ready to move as quickly as is practicable" to begin work in Iraq. He also said the Security Council is at the beginning of the process, not the end, suggesting sympathy for Powell's view.