Clinton ready for attack, but is U.S.?

By Ron Fournier Associated Press Published:

WASHINGTON _ With more U.S. ground troops headed to the Persian Gulf region, President Clinton and his foreign policy advisers are trying to persuade Americans to support an air attack on Iraq if Saddam Hussein doesn't bow to U.S. demands on weapons inspections.

In Udairi Range, Kuwait, four U.S. Army tanks crawled toward their targets, making fresh tracks in the desert 28 miles from the Iraqi border.

Although the targets of the Abrams M1A1s were made of plywood Monday, the message of these maneuvers was real: the United States is committed to the security of Kuwait.

The games, code-named "Intrinsic Action 98," began in early January and were expected to last four months. Kuwaiti troops are scheduled to join later.

Iraq warned Kuwait it will "bear the consequences" if it lets U.S. forces attack from its soil. Arab envoys and allies spoke out against the threatened American assault to end the standoff _ and urged Iraq to avert it by backing down.

After spending a long weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat, Clinton today was outlining his case against Iraq in a speech to Pentagon brass. On Wednesday, his foreign policy team was to conduct a town hall meeting in Columbus, Ohio.

"We will be increasing the pace of the dialogue both with the American people and the international community so they will understand our determination to see that Iraq complies with United Nations Security Council resolutions," White House spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

Clinton was not expected to break new ground in today's address, but aides said it offered him the best opportunity yet to fully explain the objectives and risks of military action in the standoff with Iraq over U.N. weapons inspections.

The president has said air strikes would "diminish and reduce" Iraq's suspected production of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. He would prefer a diplomatic solution that puts U.N. weapons inspectors back on the job, but Saddam has refused to promise unfettered access to potential arms sites.

Military leaders have said in recent days that U.S. casualties should be expected. Clinton was expected to echo the words of his national security adviser, Sandy Berger: "There is no cost-free, risk-free option."

Defense Secretary William Cohen said Monday he had signed orders that would send 5,000 to 6,000 more troops from armor and helicopter units to the Kuwait region.

That would bring U.S. ground forces there to about 10,000, including about 1,500 troops who are on maneuvers in Kuwait, and 3,000 soldiers from Fort Stewart, Ga., who got their orders Monday to deploy to Kuwait. More than 25,000 U.S. troops are in the Persian Gulf region, along with 320 aircraft and two aircraft carriers.

The deployments were "for purely defensive purposes" to deter Iraq from moving against Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, Cohen said Monday night on CNN's "Larry King Live" program.

In hopes of preparing Americans for conflict, aides have discussed a number of options, including a prime-time broadcast address. Such a high-profile presidential statement was not expected this week, if at all, aides said.

Berger, who will join Cohen and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Ohio, also planned to address Middle East and European citizens by satellite. Clinton has been unable to match the international coalition that went to war against Iraq in 1991.

Albright, known for her ability to discuss foreign policy in laymen's terms, was expected to visit several other U.S. cities while Clinton edged toward a military blow.

A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll released Monday found that 54 percent of Americans surveyed said they favored more diplomatic action, up from 46 percent Feb. 1. Sixty-four percent said the goal should be to remove Saddam from power, while 31 percent said air strikes should be used to "substantially reduce" Iraq's capacity to development weapons of mass destruction.

The poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 to 5 percentage points, depending on the question, surveyed 1,014 adults Friday through Sunday.

At the United Nations, meanwhile, Secretary-General Kofi Annan was unable to win agreement among the five permanent Security Council members to endorse a personal mission to Baghdad to negotiate an end to the crisis. Annan said after an hour-long meeting Monday that the permanent members told him they "need a little more time to arrive at a conclusion."

Diplomatic sources said Annan was looking for a sign from the United States that it was ready for him to negotiate an agreement with the Iraqis. But after the meeting, U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson reiterated that Iraq must grant the U.N. weapons inspection team full and unfettered access to all sites.

Cohen said "Kofi Annan, of course, is free to go to Baghdad, but I would hope and ... expect that he would go there for the sole purpose of indicating to Saddam Hussein that he must comply with the existing U.N. resolutions fully _ without qualification, without restriction, without seeking to undermine their effectiveness."

In Iraq, Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan was quoted in a state-run newspaper as saying Iraq was "serious and earnest" in its pursuit of peace.

French President Jacques Chirac said a solution was technically close at hand. "We must now make a decisive effort," he said.

Clinton also was trying to build support in Congress, which left for recess last week without agreeing on language for a nonbinding resolution that satisfied lawmakers who thought the administration was going too far or those who felt Clinton was not doing enough.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., urged Clinton on Monday to delay military action until Congress could consider a resolution authorizing force. "Bomber and missile strikes constitute acts of war," he said in a letter. "Only Congress has the constitutional prerogative to authorize war."

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