December 19, 2002
Posted at: 12:22 p.m. CDT
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration will formally declare Iraq has violated a U.N. resolution on disarmament, setting the United States on a course toward possible war with Saddam Hussein early next year, senior officials said Thursday.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said President Bush's decision is not an immediate trigger for war but the beginning of an intense diplomatic campaign to convince allies that Saddam has violated a U.N. resolution requiring him to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction or face possible military action.
Bush is not likely to decide whether to go to war until late January or early February, the officials said, and will use the time until then to bolster his case against Saddam.
Still, the president's decision, which was to be announced by Secretary of State Colin Powell, represents a crucial turning point in the standoff with Iraq. One senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the decision signals that Bush is "ramping up" toward war.
Indeed, as many as 50,000 U.S. troops may be deployed in early January for duty in the Persian Gulf area. The officials said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had not yet signed the deployment order. More than 50,000 U.S. troops are already in the Gulf region.
At issue is Saddam's 12,000-page declaration required under a tough new U.N. resolution. Iraq asserts in the document that it has no weapons of mass destruction, a claim the United States says it is prepared to rebut.
Under the terms of Resolution 1441, passed Nov. 8, false statements or omissions in the declaration — coupled with a failure to comply with inspections — would be a "material breach" of Iraq's obligations to disarm.
Although Saddam has thus far complied with inspections, many Bush advisers wanted him to liberally interpret the resolution's language. They argue that Saddam is taking advantage of a two-step test for "material breach" and should be found in violation if he violates either the inspections or the declaration provisions.
"It will become increasingly clear that the world community, including the United Nations, sees omissions in the Iraqi document," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "At a time when the United Nations Security Council and United States and all member states of the Security Council were looking to Iraq to provide a full, complete and accurate description of their weapons programs, there is a wide recognition that Iraq has not done that. There are omissions and there are problems."
After days of intense internal debate, Bush directed Powell to make the U.S. case again Saddam's 12,000-page declaration Thursday afternoon. The documents assert that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction.
Even with the finding that Iraq has violated the resolution, Bush plans this week to launch a deliberative diplomatic process that would push the prospects for military action into late January or February.