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U.S. Officials Stand Firm Against Saddam Hussein's Actions

Military force is one of the options under consideration

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WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Nov. 6) -- Diplomats are talking, inspectors are waiting and troops are readying, but no end is in sight to the latest standoff with Saddam Hussein over Iraq's refusal to allow U.S. members of a United Nations weapons inspection team into its military facilities.

But Clinton Administration officials are standing firm on one point: Saddam Hussein will comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions requiring inspections, or face countermeasures. Several options are under consideration, ranging from more economic sanctions to a military strike.

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President Bill Clinton insists the U.S. will maintain a vigilant stance against Iraq, saying he is concerned the recent actions of Saddam Hussein are all signs that he is up to something. "The idea of getting the Americans out may be a ruse, it may be that they are covering something up which is exactly why the international community has to resume inspections," Clinton said today.

Vice President Al Gore echoed that view. "Saddam must know that he has to comply with the will of the international community. ... And we will make sure that he complies," Gore said.

Diplomatic efforts underway

The U.S. is working through the U.N., and is awaiting the return of a team of U.N. envoys in Baghdad. They are scheduled to leave Friday and brief the Security Council Monday.

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Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said today she received assurances from the U.N. Secretary-General that the delegation would stand firm and not negotiate with Saddam Hussein on the issue of compliance.

"They are there delivering a tough message, and it's very important for Saddam Hussein to understand that the international community is behind the Security Council's very strong voice, that he has to abide by the Security Council resolutions," Albright said.

Military action, if necessary

If Iraq does not back down, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen warned that military action is a possibility. Iraq "will comply," Cohen insisted.

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Pentagon officials told CNN the threat of a military strike against Iraq is real, but not imminent. The U.S. hopes the threat will "hold Saddam Hussein's feet to the fire" on compliance with U.N. requirements for inspection and monitoring of Iraq's weapons program.

Pentagon officials have said repeatedly the U.S. will seek an international consensus to respond to Iraq's defiance, and that military action is unlikely while diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis continue. The U.S. would prefer not to act alone, because that would play into Saddam Hussein's apparent strategy to divide the coalition.

Cohen declined to say whether the U.S. would consider unilateral military action against Iraq. "This is ... not action directed against the United States on the part of Iraq," Cohen said, "it is action on the part of Iraq to seek to divide the United Nations."

Still, U.S. officials refuse to rule out unilateral action down the road if Saddam Hussein continues to defy the U.N. and the international community fails to "do the right thing."

And the U.S. reserves the right to strike immediately if Iraq takes any provocative action that threatens the lives of U.S. or U.N. personnel, such as any attempt to shoot down unarmed U-2 reconnaissance flights, scheduled to resume next week.

Voices of experience

The man who assembled the Gulf War coalition that drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait was honored today, as the George Bush presidential library was dedicated in Texas. Speaking from his experience, Bush said, "I'm very pleased by the president's stance" on Iraq. "He's doing exactly the right thing."

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Delivering the keynote at the library dedication, Clinton praised Bush's record in Iraq. "The vigilance that President Bush displayed in dealing with Iraq, as we all know, is required again today, and I believe that the American people support that vigilance today, thanks in no small matter to [Bush's] example not so long ago."

James Baker, who served as secretary of state under Bush, said, "We're seeing the same old cat-and-mouse game. [Saddam Hussein]'s up to his old tricks and the only thing he's going to understand is strength and resolve and force."

But Baker cautioned against a unilateral U.S. action. "I think you're going to find more and more countries coming together behind some sort of forceful action. And even if the United States ends up having to do this outside of the context of a U.N. Security Council resolution, it would be helpful to have most of the rest of the world with us. I think the way we're going about it now is probably the best way to do it."

CNN's Chris Plante and Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

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