A U.S. pilot flew a high-altitude surveillance mission over Iraq today without incident, said a Pentagon official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It's flown and everything went well," the official said. Another official said Iraq made no attempt to interfere with the U-2.
The flight was the second U.N.-sponsored U-2 mission by the United States on behalf of international weapons inspections since Saddam threatened to expel U.S. inspectors, but the first since he actually kicked the inspectors out of the country last week.
President Clinton, meanwhile, called off a trip to the Camp David presidential retreat to consult with his national security advisers today on the standoff with Iraq.
"Iraq first has to let these inspectors back in to do their job. But we're not ruling any options out, including the military one," William Richardson, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said today on ABC's "Good Morning America."
A U.S. proposal to increase aid to Iraq in exchange for a return of the inspectors was described by an official accompanying Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Pakistan as "a little carrot" for Saddam, providing an incentive for him to end the standoff and help his people at the same time.
The British and French have been consulted, said the official, who briefed reporters on condition he not be identified.
An Iraqi official quickly branded the proposal a "no-starter."
Though still in the exploratory phase, the initiative suggested an attempt by the Clinton administration to resolve the three-week impasse with Iraq without the use of force.
Even so, Clinton stressed that diplomatic efforts to return the inspectors to Iraq "must be backed by our strong military capability."
"It is essential that those inspectors go back to work," he said during a stop Monday in Wichita, Kan. "The safety of the children of the world depends upon it."
Clinton's four-day tour of the West and Midwest was interrupted repeatedly by developments in the dispute with Iraq.
U.N. teams of inspectors had been monitoring Iraqi compliance with orders that it destroy its weapons of mass destruction. But the United Nations pulled the inspectors out last week, after Iraq refused to rescind an order expelling Americans on the teams.
Press Association, a British news agency, said the initiative clarifies what Iraq has to do to get the sanctions lifted.
"We want to show that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that if they do a range of specific things then the (U.N.) Security Council can start to look at lifting sanctions," a Foreign Office official told the news agency.
But the crux of the matter does not involve bargaining, officials stressed.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary William Cohen said of Saddam: "There should be no such trading for any carrots in order to get his compliance. ... We are not seeking any deal in order to insist that he comply with his obligations."
Iraq has been the target of a U.N. economic embargo since 1990, but a loophole was created three years ago under which Iraq is permitted to sell $2 billion worth of oil every six months.
Under a carefully monitored program, the revenues are used to provide food and medicine to the Iraqi people.
The U.S. official said the $2 billion ceiling could be increased as part of the proposed sweetener for Iraq. Also, he said the definition of humanitarian aid could be expanded to include items beyond food and medicine.
In New York, Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Nizar Hamdoon, called the proposal a "no-starter."
He said Iraq wants guarantees that the sanctions "will be lifted soon because we think that Iraq is eligible for the lifting of the embargo."
The administration proposal is one of a series of diplomatic initiatives in recent days aimed at seeking a way out of the three-week-old Gulf impasse. Iraq, for its part, has softened its insistence that Americans be excluded from weapons inspection teams.
The United States, meanwhile, has been encouraging Russia and France to use their influence with Saddam to try to persuade him to comply with Security Council resolutions demanding the unconditional return of the weapons inspectors.
Clinton conferred by telephone Monday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Mubarak was "committed to doing all he could, including sending a clear message to the Iraqis that they must comply with U.N. resolutions."