Clinton: May use missiles on Iraq

By Susanne M. Schaefer Associated Press Published:

At the White House, President Clinton declared that the United States and its allies must be "resolute and firm" and that U.N. inspections of Saddam Hussein's weapon arsenals must resume.

Clinton said a decision on military action would wait until after a U.N. diplomatic delegation returns Monday from Baghdad and the United States consults with its allies. The diplomats have been unable to persuade Iraq to back down on an order expelling U.S. members of U.N. weapons inspection teams.

"I think it is important to be resolute, and I think it would be a mistake to rule in or out any particular course of action at this moment," the president told reporters gathered in the Roosevelt Room.

Clinton said he expects agreement among the allies. "I have seen no indication that any of our allies are weakening on this," he said. "Everyone seems to be united in their determination."

In Baghdad, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz claimed Friday that the United States has used the U.N. spy planes to gather information for attacks against Iraq, and declared: "I simply cannot accept that."

"When a strange plane enters the Iraqi airspace, it might be shot by the Iraqi anti-aircraft facilities," he said.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said that even though the United States has already gone "the extra mile with diplomacy," Aziz would be given a visa to hold meetings at the United Nations.

Rubin said additional U.N. sanctions that could heighten pressure on Baghdad may be considered next week.

Clinton, however, said he saw no reason to believe that Saddam was bowing to threats of sanctions or military action.

Asked if he saw any reason to hope that Saddam would comply with demands that U.N. weapons inspections resume, he said: "No, I don't."

A senior Pentagon official told reporters that if Iraq shot at a U-2 _ the high-altitude U.S. reconnaissance plane used for U.N. inspection missions _ it would be considered an act of war and met with a military response.

The flights, suspended amid Iraq's threats to expel Americans weapons inspectors, are expected to resume next week, Rubin said.

"We have made it clear that any attempt to shoot them down would be a serious mistake," the State Department spokesman said, adding: "Iraq is responsible for the personnel and equipment that are doing the international community's business in Iraq. And it would be a serious mistake to put those lives and equipment in jeopardy."

Defense Secretary William Cohen said in an interview with CNN that it would be a "very big mistake" for Saddam to target the U.N. surveillance flights, but he declined to specify what military steps might be taken.

The defense secretary said it would be possible to increase sanctions against Iraq, including putting travel restrictions on Iraqi officials, or even providing "less relief" to the Iraqi people, apparently a reference to the oil-for-food program that the international body has approved.

The U.N. inspection team "has been very successful, and that is part of Saddam's problem," Cohen said, noting that it had discovered that Iraq was developing a long-range missile that could reach from Baghdad "all the way to Paris."

Neither Clinton nor the Pentagon official indicated U.S. military action was imminent. However, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a range of military options has already been discussed, including the use of possible Tomahawk cruise missile strikes.

Asked if United States would consider it an act of war if Iraq fired on the spy plane, the official said: "Yes, in my opinion."

The official would not rule out a unilateral U.S. response. But he noted the mission is a U.N. operation and said officials there have worked with the White House and Pentagon to expedite talks that are expected before any military action.

Clinton said the international community must focus on resuming weapons inspections. "That is the issue, and whether (Saddam) is firm or weak in the end the international community has to be firm to make sure that his regime does not resume its capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction," he said.

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