WASHINGTON – President Bush on Monday challenged three key allies, including France, to reverse course and allow NATO to make plans to defend Turkey against Iraq. He also accused Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein of "trying to stall for time" by offering last-minute concessions.
NATO members France, Germany and Belgium vetoed a measure that would authorize the alliance to make plans to protect Turkey in the event of attack by Iraq — against the wishes of both Turkey and the United States, which led backing of the measure.
In Brussels Tuesday, NATO strove to surmount the standoff — one of the worst crises in its 53-year history.
A second emergency meeting of the alliance's decision making North Atlantic Council was postponed for five hours while diplomats held "intensive informal negotiations" to resolve the deadlock, said a NATO official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Secretary of State Colin Powell planned to testify Tuesday on Capitol Hill to try to inspire more support from Congress for the war option. His detailed indictment of Iraq as a deceptive stockpiler of weapons of mass destruction at the U.N. Security Council last week won instant praise from members of Congress, but skepticism about going to war remains strong.
In Iraq, U.N. weapons inspectors paid a surprise visit to a Baghdad missile plant Tuesday as international experts met behind closed doors in New York to assess whether Iraq's short-range missiles can fly farther than permitted under U.N. edicts.
In their daily rounds of inspections, conducted despite a Muslim holiday in Iraq, a U.N. team went to the 17th of Nissan factory, which makes molds and casts, including components for Iraq's al-Samoud ballistic missiles, the Information Ministry reported.
On Monday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the United States and the 16 other countries in the alliance would go ahead with planning "outside of NATO if necessary.
"We are already going about that task," he said at a news conference at the Pentagon.
But that resolve did not stop Bush from expressing his disappointment with the veto.
"'Upset' is not the proper word," Bush said of his views on France's diplomacy after a meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch U.S. ally against Iraq. "I am disappointed that France would block NATO from helping a country like Turkey to prepare," he said.
Also on Monday, France, Germany and Russia issued a joint declaration calling for strengthened U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq. French President Jacques Chirac said there is no justification for war at this time.
The White House has launched an aggressive campaign to try to sway world and public opinion in advance of Friday's report by U.N. weapons inspectors. Bush intends to use the report to force a decision from the U.N. Security Council: Back the U.S. push to disarm Saddam or stand aside as he leads a coalition to do so.
"I understand why people don't like to commit the military to action," Bush said. "I can understand that. I'm the person in this country that hugs the mothers and the widows if their son or husband dies. I know people would like to avoid armed conflict, and so would I.
"But the risks of doing nothing far outweigh the risks of whatever it takes to disarm Saddam Hussein," he said.
For the leaders of France, Germany and Belgium, equipping Turkey with anti-missile defenses, radar and other military equipment sends the wrong signal in the midst of weapons inspections.
"If Turkey is ever attacked, we will stand at its side. That is not an issue here," Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said at a news conference in Brussels. "At issue is, are we at a logical point where we are at war?"
Earlier Monday in a speech to a convention of religious broadcasters in Nashville, Tenn., Bush denounced Saddam as the true enemy of Iraq's people. He said the Iraqi leader regards them as "human shields, entirely expendable when their suffering serves his purpose."
While Bush was in Tennessee, Howard met with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Rumsfeld, both of whom signaled Bush's irritation with the NATO decision.
Powell said the allies had a legal obligation to protect Turkey and to make sure it "is not put at any risk."
Sitting with Howard in front of the Oval Office fireplace, Bush said the decision was "shortsighted." He added, "I hope they would reconsider."
"I think it affects the alliance in a negative way when you're not able to make a statement of mutual defense."
The president dismissed efforts by Saddam to avert war by allowing U-2 surveillance planes to fly above Iraq and to permit interviews of scientists.
"This is a man who is trying to stall for time," he said. "Saddam Hussein has to disarm. If he doesn't, we will disarm him," Bush said
"The reason we need to fly U-2 flights is they're not disarming," he said.
Without mentioning France or other like-minded nations by name, Bush noted that some have called for more U.N. inspectors in Iraq. He dismissed that assertion, saying "one or two" inspectors would be enough if Saddam was not hiding his weapons.
Iraq has repeatedly denied assertions that it has weapons of mass destruction.
Much as his father, former President George H.W. Bush, did before the first war against Iraq in 1991, Bush portrayed Saddam as evil and a danger to his own people and the world.
Saddam, he said, was positioning his military forces within civilian populations to shield the military and then blame anti-Iraq coalition forces for civilian casualties in the event of war.
"Saddam Hussein has broken every promise to disarm. He has shown complete contempt for the international community," Bush told the broadcasters.
Later, with Howard, Bush said Australia was a member of his "coalition of the willing," a term he usually uses to describe countries willing to disarm Iraq even without U.N. approval. Bush said it was up to Howard to say how far Australia was willing to go.
The prime minister did not specifically commit troops to the Bush coalition, but said Saddam is a rogue leader who poses a grave threat.
Meanwhile, Bush's attempt to rally the U.N. Security Council to use force to disarm Iraq sustained setbacks. Already wavering members of the council were confronted Monday with Iraq's approval of the use of U.S.-made U-2 surveillance planes by weapons inspectors and a pledge to pass legislation next week to outlaw the use of weapons of mass destruction.
"The inspectors are now free to use the American U-2s as well as French and Russian planes," Ambassador Mohamed al-Douri told The Associated Press.
Iraq had blocked the use of the planes, which inspectors said they needed in their search for banned weapons.
The U.S. response was frigid.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "The bottom line is one of disarmament and the president's interest is in disarmament. This does nothing to change that bottom line."
Al-Douri delivered the letter to the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, run at U.N. headquarters by Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector.
It could reinforce the inclination of a majority of council members to extend inspections rather than go to war to force Iraq to disarm.
Powell brushed aside Germany's opposition to war, saying after a meeting with President Lucio Gutierrez of Ecuador that Germany could not veto a resolution because it was not a permanent member of the council.
After meeting with Powell and Rumsfeld, Howard said Australia had already deployed forces to help in a war with Iraq.
"Australia does not believe all of the heavy lifting should be done by the United States and the United Kingdom alone," he said.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher described the Iraqi moves as tactical retreats and said Baghdad still had not indicated whether it would comply quickly and fully with U.N. disarmament demands.
"I haven't seen anything worth getting excited about," Boucher said. In fact, he said, "one has to question whether those ideas would have any relevance."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.