U.S.: Iraqi offer is unacceptable
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Web posted at: 8:30 p.m. EST (0130 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has rejected Iraq's latest offer as unacceptable. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said Saturday night that Baghdad's offer to comply was "neither unequivocal nor unconditional."
Berger asserted the terms Iraq placed on its compliance had already been found unacceptable by the United Nations Security Council. And Berger warned that to accept the Iraqi offer now would only lead to another crisis down the road.
Berger also said there was every reason to be skeptical of the offer from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to comply fully with inspections. "We've seen this before, broken and unfulfilled promises," Berger explained. "So-called positive answers that turned negative over time."
The security adviser said the United States was not negotiating with Iraq and that the only acceptable response from Baghdad would be a statement of complete compliance with U.N. resolutions.
When asked how long Hussein had to make an acceptable response of compliance, Berger said he would not comment, but he did say it would not be an unlimited amount of time.
"We were poised to take military action, we remain poised to take action," Berger said when a reporter asked if President Clinton had given the order for attacks to begin.
In a sign of how volatile the White House believes the situation to be, Clinton has decided remain in Washington to evaluate the next steps in the Iraq situation.
White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said after the president met with his security advisers Saturday afternoon, Clinton canceled his plans to leave Saturday night for the Asia-Pacific economic conference in Malaysia. Vice President Al Gore will represent the United States at that economic summit.
Lockhart said the president still hoped to complete the Japan, Korea and Guam portions of the trip.
Iraq's Ambassador to the United Nations Nizar Hamdoon denied that the addendum, or annex, to the original letter contained any conditions for Iraq's resumption of cooperation with UNSCOM inspectors.
"The annex contains our points of view and our preferences, the Iraqi preferences, but they are by no means conditions," Hamdoon said. "They (UNSCOM inspectors) are welcome to go anytime they want from now on to Iraq, and that's very much unconditional."
Hamdoon met later Saturday with this month's president of the United Nations Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Peter Burleigh.
After the meeting, Hamdoon said the annex contained the Iraqi point of view for the comprehensive review. He said it was given to the three permanent members of the council several days ago. And Hamdoon said it was attached to the letter of compliance so that other members of the council could read it.
Hamdoon said he explained that to Burleigh. And the Iraqi ambassador said his word was as binding as any document and that no other letter was necessary.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who received the letter and an addendum from the Iraqi government Saturday, also said the letter had no conditions attached.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said the addendum, nine areas of concern, did not have to be addressed before cooperation could resume.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Saturday if there are any conditions attached to Iraq's offer to allow weapons inspectors to resume their work, then the Iraqi offer is unacceptable.
"There can be no negotiation, no further deals, no more amendments to what they have agreed," said Blair. "In the meantime, our forces remain on alert to the possibility of military action at any time without further warning."
Blair also said experience showed Hussein is not a man to be trusted. "We all know, too, that it is only the threat of force that has ever allowed us to achieve any of our objectives in respect to him," said the prime minister.
Pentagon sources say Clinton had already ordered a cruise missile strike against Iraq, when Baghdad's last-minute offer to allow U.N. inspections prompted the president to call off the attack.
Sources say B-52 bombers, armed with cruise missiles, were already in the air, having left their base in the United States, when the order came to stand down.
U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf were at "general quarters" and were less than an hour away from launching "hundreds" of cruise missiles, sources say, when the strike was halted.
Pentagon officials say the military option remains on the table and that the crisis is not over.
When asked if Iraq had inside information about U.S. military plans, Berger said it wouldn't take a high-priced Iraqi Intelligence agent to get that information. Berger said all anyone had to do was watch U.S. television.
Pentagon officials said there has been no change in the plans for the deployment of 140 additional aircraft and 4,000 additional troops to the Persian Gulf region.
Air Force officials said 55 planes have left the United States for bases in the region, and by the end of Saturday, at least 12 more will have left.
Officials say all the additional planes should be in the region by Monday or Tuesday.
If all the forces, troops and planes move, it will take 10 days to two weeks to complete the buildup.
Pentagon officials say six B-52 bombers from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, loaded with air-launched cruise missiles, are at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington state and have not yet moved to the Persian Gulf region.
Six others left Saturday morning from Barksdale Air Force Base to fly directly to the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, sources say.
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