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CNN BREAKING NEWS

U.S. Warning to Inspectors

Aired March 17, 2003 - 05:32   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news to tell you about, a U.S. warning to the inspectors tops our news alert. Overnight, the U.S. advised weapons inspectors to leave Iraq. The Security Council will make a final decision on that guidance when they meet about four and a half hours from now. The inspectors told us just moments ago they don't want to lave Iraq. They want to avert war. But the Security Council will make that final decision.
And with war looming, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is placing three trusted aides and one of his sons in charge of four military zones. Saddam Hussein says Iraq is ready to fight the United States anywhere in the world if it launches a war.

And evacuations are under way throughout the Gulf region. The United Nations observers who monitor the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border have pulled out of the demilitarized zone. Plus, the U.S. and Britain have urged their citizens to leave Kuwait.

(WEATHER)

COSTELLO: And again in case you're just joining us, breaking news this morning. The United States government has advised U.N. weapons inspectors to get out of Iraq. They're not leaving quite yet. That's up to the Security Council. But, again, the U.S. government has advised the weapons inspectors to get out of Iraq. And as that showdown with Iraq gets closer to becoming a countdown to war, we want to update you more on what's been happening while you were asleep.

Three Security Council members have repeated their opposition to military action in Iraq. China's new foreign minister says we must work together to urge peace and avoid war. Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder says Germany cannot agree to any U.N. resolution legitimizing war and Germany has just closed its embassy in Baghdad. The French foreign minister says it is still possible, though, to disarm Iraq peacefully.

President Bush, though, says today is the last day to see if diplomacy can work. At a news conference following talks with the leaders of Britain, Spain and Portugal, the president again clarified his position.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're trying to work in two questions.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Because there's one thing we need to make clear, I think. When you say tomorrow is the moment of truth, does that mean tomorrow is the last day that the resolution can be voted up or down and at the end of the day tomorrow, one way or another, the diplomatic window has closed?

BUSH: That's what I'm saying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Shortly after that window closes, the president is expected to address the nation, possibly as early as tonight.

We're going global now for reaction to today's so-called moment of truth.

CNN's senior political correspondent Robin Oakley is in London. Our Jim Bittermann has the feedback from Paris. And Jill Dougherty is in Moscow.

We begin with Robin.

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, civil rights, as we traveled back with Tony Blair from the Azores yesterday, he clearly wasn't very hopeful that a diplomatic solution could be found at the U.N. today. He will therefore be faced with the possibility of having to go along without the political cover of a second U.N. Security Council resolution, very important to him with a party that's reluctant to back him in the military action against Saddam Hussein.

The way it looks here is that after George Bush has spoken, there will be an emergency meeting of Tony Blair's cabinet, a meeting at which he might lose up to two members of that cabinet who had warned that they won't back him in military action not backed by the United Nations.

Then there will be a debate in the British parliament, probably the following day, and, of course, he had 122 rebels in his own party the last time his Iraq policy was put to the test. More are expected this time.

But Tony Blair is still clinging, of course, to that shred of hope that diplomatic methods can produce an answer and above all he sees the French as the key to this, with the possibility of the exercise of a French veto.

For more on the prospects of that and therefore on Tony Blair's future, over to my colleague Jim Bitterman in Paris.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Robin.

And, in fact, if it's a day of truth, it's a day of repeated truth as far as the French are concerned, because they're repeating once again that the resolution on the table in the United Nations with an ultimatum built in for military action is simply still not acceptable because, the French believe, that the inspection process is working. Dominique de Villepin said this morning in a radio interview in reaction to the Azores summit yesterday basically that he was struck by the fact that the word inspection never came up in the post- meeting news conference.

This really goes to the heart of what happens here because apparently the French have a perception that's different from the rest of the allies on this. Basically they believe that this is about disarmament and they say if it's about disarmament, disarmament is taking place on a daily basis and the inspectors are accomplishing disarmament.

Now, if it's about regime change or if it's about spreading democracy, that's another issue entirely. The French believe when they signed onto 1441, the original resolution authorizing use of force, basically because they believed it was meant to disarm Iraq. And so they're saying if disarmament is taking place, the inspections should continue. And, in fact, they're going to go to the United Nations, they say, although they may be overtaken by events, they say they're going to go to the United Nations Security Council tomorrow with a different resolution, which would provide for an inspection routine to take place over the next 30 to 60 days and that routine would be approved by the inspectors and inspections would continue. But like I say, they may be overtaken by events.

Similar kind of words coming out of Moscow this morning.

Here's Jill Dougherty.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest word from Russia is that they are calling all of their warning, all of their citizens who are in Iraq to get out and not to travel to that area, to, at least to Iraq, because of what they're calling the worsening situation.

We haven't had any direct official comment by Russia to that summit in the Azores or the comments by President Bush or the other leaders. But we have had comments today by the deputy foreign minister, Yuri Fedotov, who said there is no way that that resolution is going to get through the U.N. Security Council. And he said that there is really no need for another resolution.

That, of course, has been Russia's position all along, or at least for the past month or so.

So, what does that mean? It looks as if Russia is on track to use its veto, unless, of course, that resolution is not even brought up for a vote, which would spare President Putin having to use his veto -- and now back to Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Jill Dougherty, many thanks to you, also to Robin and Jim.

Now to the voices of peace in America.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: United Nations, what do we want?

COSTELLO: At least 3,000 candlelight vigils were held in United States cities small and large last night. This one took place in New York's Union Square, where the crowd shouted for peace and sang "We Are The World." A quieter yet still symbolic mood in Austin, Texas. Hundreds of people in the state capital lined streets in four different locations. And in Denver, Colorado a big crowd gathered at a downtown park to show their opposition to a U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Again, the United States government is suggesting that weapons inspectors get out of Iraq. Also, U.N. observers in Iraq are evacuating both sides of the demilitarized zone along the Iraq-Kuwait border, just another sign that war may be imminent.

CNN's Richard Blystone joins us live from Kuwait with the latest -- what's the mood like there now?

RICHARD BLYSTONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Carol.

Well, if Kuwait was blase a day ago, it is blase no longer. Convoys of white U.N. vehicles are at this hour, at this moment, leaving the demilitarized zone to the north of here and heading south into Kuwait City. That will continue until all of the 700 or 800 remaining members of the UNICOM mission have arrived here in Kuwait. There they will await for further orders.

At the same time one of our crews up the southern end of the Kuwaiti DMZ reports that there is a wide new gap in one of the berms, one of the earthen fortifications in the southern part of the demilitarized zone.

Already the helicopters that the United Nations were flying have been withdrawn from there, or most of them have, and that's a matter of insurance companies refusing to insure them under the current circumstances.

For the Kuwaitis, the U.N. mission was itself a kind of insurance and they were happy to pay two thirds of the bill for it -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Richard Blystone reporting live from Kuwait.

Thanks for your report.

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