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Baghdad warns Arab states, White House resolved
Baghdad warned fellow Arab states on Wednesday that any US strike on Iraq would rebound on them, but Egypt urged Iraqi leaders to respond positively to US demands that they scrap weapons of mass destruction.
Differences of approach between Arab countries emerged after President George W. Bush vowed this week to use the "full force and fury" of the US military if necessary to make Iraq disarm + but said war was neither imminent nor inevitable.
The Bush administration said it was still convinced that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction posed a threat to the United States, despite a CIA assessment that Iraq was unlikely to attack or use them unless provoked.
The CIA letter quoted a senior US intelligence official who saw a low chance of an unprovoked Iraqi attack for the foreseeable future and a "pretty high" chance of Baghdad striking out, possibly with biological and chemical weapons, if the United States attacked.
The letter was unlikely to derail what is expected to be overwhelming approval by Congress for resolutions authorizing Bush to use military force against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein should diplomatic and political pressure fail.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer denied any contradiction between the CIA letter and Bush's speech on Monday in which he said Iraq could decide "on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to ... terrorists."
Saddam denies that he has such weapons.
Iraq's state-controlled media denounced Bush's charge that it posed a growing threat to America as "lies and fabrication" and Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz told the Arabs they would suffer too if the United States attacked Iraq.
"No Arab country is free of the threat, even if it takes part alongside America in the aggression against Iraq," Aziz told reporters during a visit to Damascus.
"Don't think that (they are safe) if they make nice statements and offer bases to the Americans. When the crime ends, they will be made to submit to America and Zionism."
US POSITION CHANGING, MUBARAK SAYS
But Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has good relations with the West, said on Wednesday that Bush's latest comments "contained many positive elements" and that the American position on Iraq was "gradually changing."
Mubarak was quoted by Egypt's official Middle East News Agency as saying: "Bush, in his latest speech, gave Iraq a chance to respond to (United Nations) Security Council resolutions to destroy all weapons of mass destruction.
The agency said that Mubarak "expressed his hope that Iraq would respond to these statements and not keep any weapons of mass destruction."
Security Council members are discussing a resolution to force Saddam to cooperate with a new mission by UN arms inspectors, who left Baghdad in 1998, to hunt for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs in Iraq.
"We'll see whether or not the United Nations has the desire, has the backbone necessary to uphold its own resolutions and help keep the peace," Bush said on Tuesday in his latest speech, in Knoxville, Tennessee.
"But if they're unable to act, and if Saddam Hussein can't do what he said he would do, which is disarm, this country will lead a coalition and disarm him, for the sake of peace," he said.
The Security Council's permanent members have not yet agreed on a resolution. The United States and Britain want sweeping powers for the inspectors and a threat of force if Saddam does not comply, but France, Russia and China favor a weaker text.
Bush, in a telephone conversation with French President Jacques Chirac on Wednesday, argued his case for a single, tough UN resolution on Iraq that would pave the way for US military action.
TENSION IN THE GULF
As the Middle East awaits the outcome of the debate, two incidents this week + an explosion on a French oil tanker off Yemen and a gun attack on US Marines training on a Kuwaiti island + have raised tensions in the Gulf area. Neither has been specifically linked to Iraq.
Kuwait said on Wednesday it had arrested up to 50 people suspected of aiding two Kuwaitis who killed a US Marine on Tuesday. In Yemen, French and US anti-terror experts were investigating whether the blast was an attack or an accident.
US and British warplanes kept up the pressure on Iraq on Wednesday by attacking an anti-aircraft missile site in the north of the country that the US military said had threatened them. It was the 47th strike this year by warplanes policing "no-fly" zones over Iraq.
Iraq said US and British warplanes hit civilian targets and killed four people and wounding ten others.
The United States also said on Wednesday that it was negotiating with the Gulf Arab state of Qatar to allow American forces to use its Al Udeid air base in case of war with Iraq.
Both Iraq and the West have been lobbying the Arab world for its support in the crisis. Although all Arab states want to avoid war they have differed in their backing for Baghdad.
By contrast with Egypt, Syria's official media have slammed Bush for "double standards" because he focused on Iraq rather than condemning an Israeli raid on Gaza that killed 14 Palestinians on Monday.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who earlier visited three Arab states, was in Tehran on Wednesday, seeking to convince Iran + torn between rivalry with Iraq and enmity towards the United States + of the need for a tough line.
"I hope very much that force does not have to be used. But the whole international community faces a paradox (which is) that only if the international community is resolved to use force then ... the situation in Iraq may be resolved peacefully," Straw told a news conference.
Oil prices, which have reacted sharply to fears of a new Gulf War, barely moved on Wednesday. New York light crude futures dropped nine cents to $29.39, some two dollars below recent 19-month highs. Brent crude futures gained six cents at $28.15 a barrel.
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