US warns of consequences as Iraq bars American duo
THE CLINTON administration warned of ``serious consequences'' after Iraq barred two US arms inspectors from searching for illegal weapons in defiance of the United Nations. Iraq refused to back down.
``This is a very serious matter and we are not ruling any option out,'' said James P Rubin, the US State Department spokesman, as Secretary Madeleine Albright and other American diplomats yesterday rallied Russia and US allies to take joint action in the UN Security Council.
While the United States and some of its allies were divided only last week, keeping the Clinton administration from pushing through new restrictions on travel by Iraqi officials, the outlook for unanimity this time was far brighter.
In fact, the United States may renew its failed attempt to ban Iraqi officials from international travel, a senior US official said.
Albright telephoned Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, whose government tends to take a more lenient approach to Baghdad, and Rubin reported afterward that ``he was very clear with her that Iraq cannot pick and choose who the inspectors are.''
As a result, the United States was poised to push for travel curbs or for a declaration in the Security Council last night that Iraq had breached the cease-fire. It was a council declaration that opened the way for military action against Saddam Hussein, though in the past the Iraqi president has consistently backed off, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
On Thursday, however, Iraq refused to cancel its decision to expel the American weapons inspectors, and warned it was prepared for ``a military confrontation'' if pushed.
``We have not chosen confrontation ... we are defending our rights,'' Saad Kasim Hamoodi, head of the Arab and International Committee in the Iraqi Parliament, told reporters in Baghdad.
``We are on the defence, but if they (the Americans) pushed the issue towards a military confrontation, we would not be scared of this option and we will not back down from the stand we took,'' he said.
Iraq said on Wednesday that 10 American weapons inspectors who are among 40 inspectors now in Iraq must leave within a week. The government also asked the United Nations to stop using US reconnaissance planes to monitor Iraqi compliance in eliminating the weapons.
The United Nations said yesterday that Iraq refused to allow two American weapons inspectors to enter the country.
White House spokesman Mike McCurry said ``the entire world is insisting'' Saddam comply with UN orders that Iraq not acquire or keep weapons of mass destruction.
``If he doesn't, there will be serious consequences,'' McCurry said.
Iraq's accusation that the American inspectors were engaged in espionage was rejected by the White House official.