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U.S. could hold resolution until next week

Launching attack from Turkey looks less likely, officials say

Bush speaks Tuesday after the swearing-in for new SEC chief William Donaldson.
Bush speaks Tuesday after the swearing-in for new SEC chief William Donaldson.

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U.S. President George W. Bush is trying to keep the pressure on Iraq despite rifts among allies and solidarity among anti-war demonstrators. CNN's Chris Burns reports (February 19)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States could wait until next week to present a new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq if it believes more time would help build support, senior officials said Tuesday, but President Bush said no new resolution is needed for military action.

Bush told reporters Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "could even care less about the first resolution."

"We're working with our friends and allies right now on how best to get a resolution out of the United Nations," Bush said during remarks following the swearing-in of new Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman William Donaldson.

"It would be helpful to get one out. It's not necessary, as far as I'm concerned," Bush said.

White House officials also said the administration is now increasingly pessimistic it will be allowed to use Turkish bases for a ground assault on Iraq from the north and is actively making preparations to use alternative staging options. (Turkey: Don't assume support)

"It is decision time," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said when asked by a reporter about the impasse with Turkey.

One senior official said any new resolution would be "direct, very straightforward" and declare that Iraq has not met the requirements of Security Council Resolution 1441.

"What is not straightforward is lining up nine votes of support and making sure there are no vetoes," the senior official said.

"We are still in the consultative process, and while this week is the goal, it could well slip into next week."

The official brushed aside some reports suggesting a new resolution would have specific new disarmament demands and deadlines on Iraq.

The official said inspectors could make new demands -- including a call for Iraq to destroy missiles deemed to be in violation of U.N. restrictions -- but the administration did not view a new resolution as the appropriate place "for more process arguments."

As the diplomatic maneuvering continued, the administration officials said Bush had not set a hard deadline, but envisioned two or three more weeks of intense focus on Iraq at the United Nations.

Decisions on how to proceed would be made based on the level of support there, they said.

Fleischer told a press briefing the administration is working on "a simple resolution -- not very lengthy." Another official said the current draft "runs just a couple of lines."

Thinking about Plan B

As that process plays out, the president's national security team has been focusing more on alternatives to using Turkey as a major staging point for U.S. troops.

Turkey's government said Monday it was delaying a parliamentary vote to grant the United States broad access to Turkish military facilities.

Senior officials in Washington attributed the delay to a continuing disagreement over the level of U.S. economic assistance to Turkey.

"We could have a significant setback there," one senior White House official said of Turkey. "The conversations now are about the possibility of having to shift to Plan B."

This official and others said the Pentagon's war planning has long envisioned the possibility the United States would be denied access to Turkey's bases -- the preferred staging point for a "northern front" in Iraq. U.S. troops in Kuwait are poised to open a "southern front." (Full story)

"There are other ways to stage the operation," said a second official. "It is more complicated, but very doable."

Pentagon sources said one plan would be for the United States to essentially "drive" thousands of troops and equipment north from southern Iraq and the Persian Gulf region, where troops are staging.

U.S. Army soldiers jog past a crane as it loads a container onto a truck at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.
U.S. Army soldiers jog past a crane as it loads a container onto a truck at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.

That would require a period of some days, plus a "permissive environment," according to sources.

Another option under consideration would be for U.S. troops to take control of an airfield in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

Then, the United States could airlift troops and heavy combat equipment by C-130 transports. Or the airfield could be used to drop in paratroopers or for helicopters to ferry in air assault troops.

One official said Turkey "appears to have overestimated" the amount it could ask for in U.S. economic assistance as part of any agreement to allow the United States access to its bases.

Turkey's foreign minister and economic minister met with Bush in the Oval Office Friday and sought to increase the aid package.

"The president said he had gone as far he was going to go and told them they had a decision to make," the senior official said. "They appear to have concluded that was a bluff and they could get more. It was not a bluff."

Other administration officials, however, said the tougher tone from the White House is in part designed to send a signal to Turkey. "We have not stopped talking to them," this official said. "We could be at that point soon, but not yet."

Fleischer told reporters the debate about the United States using Turkish bases would be "settled one way or another rather soon."

But even if Turkey denies the United States access, he said the White House would "continue to work with Turkey as a friend."

Fleischer made an unprompted reference to the weekend statement of French President Jacques Chirac, who angrily criticized Eastern European nations that have sided with the White House in the Iraq debate.

He did not mention Chirac by name, but noted there has been recent criticism of Eastern European nations and went on to say, "The United States will continue to have an approach of respecting nations that agree with us and respecting nations that disagree with us."

CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this story.

For latest developments, see CNN.com's Iraq Tracker.


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