WASHINGTON _ The White House insisted Monday that U.S. forces would remain poised near Iraq for the foreseeable future while calls increased in Congress for more forceful efforts to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
"We will remain skeptical until we see full implementation of the agreement as it's been reached. And we will keep a significant force deployed in that region in the interim," said White House spokesman Mike McCurry.
McCurry spoke hours before the U.N. Security Council unanimously endorsed Secretary-General Kofi Annan's deal to open Iraq's palaces to U.N. arms inspectors, warning of "severest consequences" if Baghdad reneges on the accord.
In a unanimous vote Monday night, the 15-member council endorsed the accord signed last week in Baghdad by Annan and Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, to open the palaces and avert a threatened U.S.-British attack.
Annan said if his deal holds, he believed "we will be moving on to a period when Iraq will complete its obligations and the council can begin thinking of lifting the sanctions" imposed more than seven years ago.
In a statement, President Clinton said the vote "sends the clearest possible message: Iraq must make good on its commitment to give the international weapons inspectors immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to any suspect site, any place, any time."
"... In the days and weeks ahead, the inspectors will renew their mission to find and destroy Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capacity and the missiles to deliver them. Iraq now has the responsibility to turn the commitment it has made into full compliance," Clinton said.
Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, meanwhile, said he would back legislation stating that Saddam should be tried as a war criminal and would support increased sanctions, money for a Radio Free Iraq and covert action to bring down the Iraqi president.
"Containment doesn't seem to get what we want," Lott, R-Miss., told reporters.
Lott also denied he intended to snub Annan by declining to meet with him. He cited a busy schedule.
Annan canceled a trip to Washington planned for Tuesday, saying he needed to remain close to U.N. headquarters while the Security Council discussed the accord he reached with Iraq late last month, but an aide said part of the reason was criticism by leading congressional Republicans of the deal, which averted U.S.-led air strikes.
Lott said Annan had requested a meeting to discuss payment of back U.S. dues to the United Nations, not to talk about the Iraqi crisis. "I've met with him before, and I expect to meet with him in the future," he said.
Still, the incident served to highlight the sentiment expressed by many Republicans in Congress that Annan had made too many concessions to Saddam in the agreement.
Meanwhile, an exiled Iraqi opposition leader, Ahmad Chalabi, urged Congress to provide "overt U.S. support, not covert U.S. action," including arms and air cover.
"Saddam is the problem. He can never be part of any solution," said Chalabi, who leads the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella group in London that seeks to unite the numerous anti-Saddam groups.
Chalabi testified at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Near East subcommittee called by Chairman Sam Brownback, R-Kan., to consider whether Saddam could be overthrown.
"Given the past failures of the opposition (to oust Saddam) and the unwillingness of U.S. officials to back them up, is it realistic to support any opposition group?" Brownback asked _ without providing an answer.
Brownback also criticized Annan's role, saying, "The secretary general's agreement with Iraq has generated a lot of criticism _ most of it well-deserved."
Another witness before the Senate panel, former CIA Director James Woolsey, blamed both the Bush and Clinton administrations for a "flaccid and feckless" policy toward Iraq.
But he said it would be wrong either to send in U.S. ground troops or to try to arrange for Saddam's assassination _ suggesting finding Saddam would be extremely difficult and an assassination order would "send a signal to the world that undercuts American values."
Instead, Woolsey, who headed the CIA from February 1993 to January 1995, had these suggestions for the United States: Recognize an Iraqi government-in-exile and provide it with financial support and some arms, such as anti-tank weapons, establish a "no-fly zone" over the entire nation and broadcast anti-Saddam messages into the country.
Also, be "prepared to use force from the air when _ and I say when, not if _ Saddam violates the agreement," Woolsey said.