U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has urged the world to unite behind the U.S. threat of military action against Iraq, saying delaying preparations for war can only send a signal of weakness to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Mr. Rumsfeld told a security conference in Munich that 12 years of diplomacy, economic sanctions and limited military strikes have failed to disarm Iraq.
Mr. Rumsfeld said that only by appearing united and determined to use force will the international community have a chance of convincing Iraq it is serious about eliminating the country's alleged weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Rumsfeld, who is on a mission aimed at rallying European support around Washington's tough stance against Iraq, spoke before an audience of ministers, top-level military officers and defense experts.
The U.S. defense secretary says Washington hopes to avoid military action, but that a growing number of countries want Iraq to disarm. "We all hope for a peaceful solution," he said. "But the one chance for a peaceful solution is to make clear that free nations are prepared to use force, if necessary, that the world is united and, while reluctant, is willing to act."
Mr. Rumsfeld saved some of his toughest words for France, Germany and Belgium, which have been critical of Washington's focus on military action. The three countries have also blocked the NATO alliance from initiating plans to protect Turkey, the only NATO ally that borders Iraq, against the threat of an Iraqi counterstrike.
Mr. Rumsfeld called the move by the three Western European allies inexcusable, reminding them that, as NATO members, they have an obligation to defend Turkey.
France, Germany and Belgium say, any move to plan for the deployment of such NATO assets as surveillance aircraft and anti-missile systems to Turkey would undermine efforts for a peaceful solution of the crisis.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who also addressed the conference, defended his government's position, saying diplomatic efforts to secure Iraq's disarmament have not been exhausted, and that it is premature to plan for military action.
He says Germany will respect its commitments to Turkey as a NATO ally. But he says the alliance should not begin planning for Turkey's defense, until after the chief U.N. weapons inspectors report to the U.N. Security Council February 14 on Iraqi compliance with U.N. resolutions mandating Iraq's disarmament.
Mr. Rumsfeld says, if France, Germany and Belgium continue to block NATO plans to protect Turkey, they will jeopardize the credibility of the alliance. He says the United States and other allies will help Turkey individually, if the NATO deadlock continues.