The United States will not let Iraq continue to fire on planes patrolling two "no-fly" zones, even if the United Nations does not consider the shootings a justification for war, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday.
"You can be absolutely certain we'll not allow our aircraft to continue to be shot at with impunity. We intend to respond," Rumsfeld told reporters returning with him from a Western Hemisphere military summit in the Chilean capital.
He refused to elaborate on whether he meant retaliatory strikes on Iraqi antiaircraft sites would continue, as they have since flight-interdiction zones were established over northern and southern Iraq after the Persian Gulf War, or was hinting at a stronger U.S. response.
Rumsfeld and other American officials have said they believe that by targeting patrolling U.S. and British warplanes, Iraq violates the latest U.N. Security Council resolution that demands President Saddam Hussein disarm with verification by weapons inspectors.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said Tuesday he didn't think the full Security Council would agree that firing on the patrols violates the latest resolution.
"I don't know that [Annan] necessarily reflects the United Nations, the center of gravity of the Security Council, on any particular issue at any particular time," Rumsfeld said. "He certainly is the secretary-general, and he has a place and a role. On the other hand, until President Bush went to the U.N., the U.N. was quite happy with the way things were, it seems."
The United States says it set up the "no-fly" zones with Britain and France to support U.N. resolutions demanding Saddam cease repression of Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south. Only the Americans and British still patrol them. The Security Council has never approved nor repudiated the "no-fly" zones.
Iraq, for its part, calls the zones a violation of its sovereignty and frequently tries to shoot down the warplanes. Iraq has fired at coalition planes, and the coalition has responded with airstrikes on Iraqi antiaircraft sites, at least four times since Iraq accepted the latest U.S.-sponsored Security Council resolution demanding elimination of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.
Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials, while they denounce the "no-fly" zone firings, have indicated they expect President Bush to wait and see how Iraq deals with weapons inspectors before seeking Security Council debate on possible war.