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Bush Warns Diplomacy on Iraq Coming to End

Aired March 17, 2003 - 06:31   ET


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush warns diplomacy on Iraq is coming to an end.

And in case you're just joining us, a big development in the showdown with Iraq. The U.S. has advised the U.N. to pull its weapons inspectors out of Iraq. The Security Council is expected to discuss the matter at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

This comes on a day President Bush is calling for a moment of truth at the United Nations. He wants the Security Council to decide today on possible military action in Iraq.

That call for U.N. inspectors to leave Iraq does not surprise the International Atomic Energy Agency, although it was hoping the moment would never come.

IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming talked to me earlier this morning about the calls made by the United States.


MELISSA FLEMING, IAEA SPOKESWOMAN: Late last night, Mr. ElBaradei did receive a phone call from U.S. government officials advising him to pull out IAEA inspectors from Baghdad. Similar advice was also given to Mr. Blix from UNMOVIC.


COSTELLO: And Melissa also told me the weapons inspectors did not want to leave Iraq, because they thought they were making progress. But, of course, the final word will come from Hans Blix, Mohammed ElBaradei and the U.N. Security Council.

We want to get reaction from Baghdad to this ominous warning, though. Rym Brahimi is standing by live in Baghdad.

Rym -- what's the reaction from there?

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, well, I spoke a short while ago to the spokesman of the U.N. weapons inspection team here, Hiro Ueki. Now, he told me that he hadn't received any orders to leave for now. They haven't received any orders from New York to evacuate.

That said, the inspectors are prepared for any eventuality, he told me. The U.N. weapons inspectors actually have a plane based here at Saddam International Airport that's ready to leave, take them out of the country as soon as they get their marching orders.

But again, that guidance expected to come, as you mentioned, from New York, from Hans Blix and the United Nations Security Council.

Now, it's most likely that if they do receive word to leave that would also trigger departure from the other members of the United Nations here, the humanitarian missions, the various agencies. And although Iraqis here -- most Iraqis don't have immediate access to international news, well, once they see U.N. international staff leaving, that is likely to create some sort of panic, or at least concern among the Iraqis here.

Earlier on this morning, Carol, we also caught up with the information minister of Iraq, Mr. Mohammed Saeed al Sahef. He told reporters that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, but that Iraq was prepared to continuing doing all it could, to continue the cooperation with the weapons inspectors.

He also reacted to the summit that took place in the Azores yesterday between the governments -- sorry -- President Bush, Prime Ministers Blair and Aznar, and he had very strong words reacting to that summit. Let's listen to what he had to say.


MOHAMMED SAEED AL SAHEF, IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER: I think it's a failure, those despicable three failures. They tried again to divert the attention, and all day presented a series of lies and a series of dark, black propaganda like Mr. Bush and the others.


BRAHIMI: The minister also said that the U.S. and Britain were preparing to launch what he called a foolish and stupid attack, that Iraq was preparing for that, while it was at the same time doing all it could to cooperate and avert war.

Asked what he thought about the prospect of a new resolution at the United Nations, he said there is no need for a new resolution, and according to him, the whole world agrees with that -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Rym Brahimi reporting live from Baghdad this morning.

Now let's go to New York and the United Nations for more reaction. Our senior U.N. correspondent, Richard Roth, is at his post.

Good morning -- Richard.


COSTELLO: So, when will the Security Council talk about pulling the weapons inspectors out?

ROTH: Well, if they wait that long, it will be 10:00 a.m. this morning, which is going to be the main meeting of the day, it appears. I'm told that the Security Council and Secretary-General Annan have been notified by the U.S. of the threat to inspectors and imminent action there.

But the United Nations Security Council may have to be the final deciding body, because these inspectors under Dr. Blix report to the council, really unlike Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which you were just talking about. They're a different organ reporting with their own board of governors. They've made the decision to withdraw already.

It was very controversial in 1998 when the inspectors were withdrawn, and there was no clear approval by the Security Council, so it's likely a little bit more time may be taken to consider this option.

Blix and ElBaradei had received invitations on Saturday to come to Iraq. That doesn't look like it's going to happen now -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And tell us what's going to happen at 3:00 Eastern Time this afternoon with that second resolution.

ROTH: Well, that second resolution may indeed come up at the 10:00 a.m. meeting, and the afternoon one was to discuss the request by Russia, France and Germany to give the inspectors 30 to 60 days more and to begin preparing the ground work for Dr. Blix's next report, a to-do list of 12 different tasks for Iraq to cooperate on. This may all be swept away by events in the morning.

COSTELLO: Yes, you've got that right. Richard Roth, thanks so much for updating us live from the United Nations.

We want to get more on this breaking news now, as the U.S. warns U.N. inspectors to get out of Iraq.

Our White House correspondent, Dana Bash, joins us for this morning's "Wake-Up Call."

Good morning -- Dana.


Well, we don't have direct word from the White House that this was what they requested.

However, Wolf Blitzer on "LATE EDITION" yesterday asked point- blank of Colin Powell: Should people be leaving Baghdad? Should journalists leave and others? And he said, "Yes." He said point- blank for the first time publicly that he thought it was time for them to leave, not only because of imminent military action, but he also said because of the potential threat of being held hostage. So he was pretty open about it yesterday.

COSTELLO: So it sounds as if the U.S. government wants to go to war. Why this continued wrangling in the United Nations?

BASH: You know, yesterday what we heard -- we've been talking about ultimatums for a long time for Saddam Hussein. Yesterday really it was an ultimatum for the U.N., a one, last chance for the U.N. It was a show of unity with the president and his top allies, and those allies it's worth nothing who, according to their people, really want them to go to through the United Nations.

So it was important for them even almost more than President Bush himself to stand up together shoulder to shoulder and say, we really want to go through the U.N., and it's up to the U.N. So that's what they're doing.

But you heard from President Bush and others yesterday. They don't see a lot of hope that the U.N. will kind of break their way today.

COSTELLO: No, not at all. Dana Bash, thanks for waking up early with DAYBREAK.

And just an inside for you, Prime Minister Tony Blair is going to hold an emergency cabinet meeting in Britain, and we're going to -- I guess that will happen at what, at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time? 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time. And of course, we'll keep you informed on what happens there.

U.S. forces in the Gulf region are awaiting President Bush's orders. Let's get a live update from the Pentagon and CNN's Barbara Starr.

Barbara -- I expect U.S. troops are ready.


Indeed, more than ready, according to sources here. Military air crews have been now put on sleep schedules that will allow them to begin to conduct overnight operations at any time. Forces in the field are at some forward-staging locations. Those Tomahawk warships are now ready to go in the Red Sea to fire their Tomahawk missiles at targets in Iraq when they are given the orders.

So most of the final moves have been put into place. Some helicopters still need to be finished being unpacked and assembled and being put into place, but almost everything is as ready as it can be. Indeed, reconnaissance is now constant over Iraq. There are flights over southern Iraq, no-fly patrol-zone flights literally around the clock.

What officials are watching for, though, they say, is this period of vulnerability, this window of vulnerability. Now that President Bush has made his intentions all but crystal clear, there is a concern that the Iraqi regime may feel cornered, that they may react, and that the U.S. might have to launch some sort of strikes sooner than it would wish, perhaps if the Iraqis were to take some provocative act, use their Scud missiles, use chemical or biological weapons, take some action that looks like they're beginning to set -- they would begin to set the oil fields on fire.

A lot of concern about all of that type of scenario, so U.S. troops are really on hair-trigger alert right now watching for that, but waiting for word from the president -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Good enough. Barbara Starr reporting live from the Pentagon this morning.


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