Powell says it's too late for Iraq to negotiate
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday that U.N. weapons inspectors must be allowed to go "anywhere, anytime" if they returned to Iraq -- rejecting that country's conditional offer to allow inspections to resume.
"If they have no weapons, what are they hiding?" Powell said on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer."
"They find all kinds of excuses, a thousand excuses -- 'There are spies on this team. We don't want this. When are sanctions going to be relieved and removed?' The issue is Iraqi noncompliance, and we should not allow them to move us off that issue."
At a news conference Saturday, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said his nation would allow inspectors to return only if the United States doesn't bring military action and if U.N. sanctions are lifted.
"If there is a solution which maintains Iraq's sovereignty, dignity and legitimate rights and prevents aggression, we are ready," Aziz said.
President Bush brought his case against Iraq to the U.N. General Assembly last week, challenging the international organization to enforce resolutions seeking to disarm the Saddam Hussein regime.
Aziz denied Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction and accused Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair of exaggerating the threat Iraq poses to the region.
Powell said it was too late for Iraq to negotiate the terms for the return of international weapons inspectors.
He said he was working with members of the U.N. Security Council to try to hammer out a resolution that lays out Iraq's violations of U.N. resolutions, what the country must do to meet the U.N. conditions and what the international community will do if it does not respond.
"The time for Iraq to respond was years ago," Powell said. "They now have an opportunity to respond now with this new resolution. But what we cannot allow to have happen is to get into this haggling and listening to the duplicitous comments that are constantly coming out of Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz."
Powell said the United States was focusing on eliminating weapons of mass destruction and that if inspectors return to Iraq "it has to be anywhere, anytime, talking to anybody that has to be spoken to in order to get to the truth."
U.S. officials said Saturday that Bush was making progress convincing world leaders that Iraq must be dealt with, repeating the matter is between the United Nations and Saddam.
"You are seeing the international community coalesce around this idea that Iraq must comply" with U.N. resolutions, a senior Bush administration official said.
Bush, who huddled Saturday with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at Camp David, Maryland, stepped up the pressure on the United Nations, saying the institution must show some "backbone" and deal with the Iraqi leader.
"Enough is enough," said Bush, who argued that Saddam has defied the United Nations 16 times since the Persian Gulf War. "The United Nations will either be able to function as a peacekeeping body as we head into the 21st century, or it will be irrelevant, and that's what we are about to find out."
Bush also said if the world body did not act, he was prepared to take matters into his own hands.
"Make no mistake about it," Bush said. "If we have to deal with the problem, we'll deal with it."
A senior administration official described the two-hour session between Bush and Berlusconi as an "excellent" meeting in which the two leaders discussed a range of issues, including Iraq, the Middle East and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.
Berlusconi expressed support for Bush's approach on Iraq, the official added, but the top aide could not say if the Italian leader voiced opposition to any unilateral U.S. action.
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