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February 18th, 2013 11:10 PM

Ten Years Ago Today from the Washington Post: '2-Week Window Frames Bush's Decision on War'

The Washington Post ran this front page article referring with no caveats to Saddam Hussein's "chemical and biological weapons" exactly ten years to the day before printing quotes from a made up "interview" Michael Moore supposedly gave to an Iranian magazine

2-Week Window Frames Bush's Decision on War

February 18, 2003, Page A1

By Mike Allen and Karen DeYoung, Washington Post Staff Writers

President Bush plans at least two more weeks of diplomacy before deciding whether to attack Iraq and may support a deadline for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to visibly destroy his chemical and biological weapons, administration officials said yesterday.

Officials said the United States and Britain are likely to push for an enforcement resolution in the U.N. Security Council this week. One option under consideration was a demand for "actual disarmament" by Iraq within a specified number of days, a senior administration official said.

"It would say, 'This is your last window,' " the official said.

Meeting in Brussels yesterday, the 15 European Union leaders agreed that U.N. weapons inspectors should be given more time to find and destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and declared that a war against Iraq "should be used only as a last resort." [Details, Page A17.]

Officials here and in London discussed how to regain momentum lost last week, when chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix told the Security Council that progress was being made, even though Baghdad was still not cooperating fully with disarmament demands. A majority of council members, including France, Russia, China and Germany, said that inspections should be given more time before there was any consideration of the use of military force.

As the administration has tried to sustain pressure on Iraq, it often has implied during the past two months that a final deadline was near. Officials suggested yesterday that Bush's rough timetable has always been slightly longer than many diplomats assumed when he announced Jan. 30 that the issue of how to deal with Hussein would be resolved in "a matter of weeks, not months."

But this time, the administration appears to have left little room for retreat from a timetable heading toward a final decision in about two weeks. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice on Sunday implied that what she called a "diplomatic window" would close following the next Security Council meeting at the end of this month, when members will again hear an assessment from Blix of Iraqi cooperation. She was dismissive of a French suggestion that the council schedule yet another meeting on March 14.

U.S. and British military deployments to the Persian Gulf region will then have reached levels more than adequate for an attack by early to mid-March. Although senior military officials have said that troops could remain in the region for "months" without any action, planners have expressed concern about fighting in the intense heat that falls over the region in early spring.

While the administration has consistently maintained that it does not need another Security Council resolution to launch an attack against Iraq, it has so far bowed to the wishes of Britain and Spain, its two main council allies. Dozens of other countries whose support the administration has claimed also have said they would prefer a U.N. imprimatur on any action.

In addition to a possible final deadline for Iraq, other possible provisions for a new resolution include declaring that Iraq already has violated the November council demand that it disarm immediately and completely. The resolution would not spell out any consequences requiring members to agree to military action, but the administration would assert that such approval was implied. Officials said they are not interested in a scenario where a further debate about the consequences would begin after a deadline or final "material breach" had been decided.

Among the tests for Iraq that officials are considering is insistence that weapons scientists and technicians be allowed to travel outside the country for interviews with U.N. inspectors. But administration officials, while saying it might be possible to write a list of tasks tightly enough, expressed misgivings about the deadline approach.

Some pointed out that Bush might find himself in a box if Hussein complied. The real fear, a senior official said, is that even the appearance of compliance would encourage council members who have already said they believe progress is being made. Also, Bush's aides have said repeatedly that Iraqi cooperation thus far has been focused on process, such as allowing the inspectors access to suspected weapons sites, while the administration wants results on substance, such as the voluntary giving up and destruction of weapons it says Iraq is concealing.

The administration is hesitant to lobby for a new list of procedural demands, officials said, and is concerned that Iraq would use such an approach to further delay the process with attempts to negotiate. "The question is: Are they able to do enough on each [demand] to give the appearance of complying?" an official said. "You agree in principle, and then they try to drag it out for months."

But while all the diplomatic options have drawbacks, the administration also believes that a new resolution could greatly expand the support, including financial contributions, that the United States would receive from other nations for a post-Hussein occupation and reconstruction of Iraq.  Officials made it clear that Bush is going to continue to work with the United Nations for several more weeks, after which he is prepared to go to war without U.N. approval if he is convinced no headway is being made, they said.

Bush's aides insisted that he will not be slowed down by opposition that was clear in Friday's Security Council meeting, or by the millions of protesters around the world who marched against war over the weekend. They said he is continuing to make alternative diplomatic and military plans in case the council fails to approve a resolution endorsing an attack on Iraq, his aides said.

"Sometimes the demonstration of pursuing the alternative plans helps push the likelihood of a resolution," the senior official said, adding that the alternative plans nevertheless are very real.

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said after meeting with Bush at the White House yesterday that "time is very short, and I think that we will be seeing developments within a matter of weeks." Bush "has reaffirmed his commitment and sees it as the responsibility of the United States to guarantee that Saddam Hussein is disarmed," the Latvian leader said in the snowy White House driveway. "And he says, 'We will see to it. We will do it.' "

Bush's meeting yesterday was indicative of the attention he is lavishing on smaller nations as he builds his coalition in the face of resistance from several of the traditional powers of western Europe. Latvia, a former Soviet republic, is one of 10 Central and Eastern European nations that have publicly expressed support for Bush's approach to Iraqi disarmament.

Bush's week of heavy diplomacy includes a meeting Wednesday in the Oval Office with NATO Secretary General George Robertson. On Saturday, at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., he will consult with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, and the two will hold a joint news conference.

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