| A British soldier “sanitises’ his kit by burning personal mail in the Kuwait desert on Saturday. Troops potentially involved in future operations sanitise their kit so as not to include any items that may be of assistance to the enemy. (Reuters)
Washington, March 15 (Reuters): George Bush braced the American people for war on Iraq, on the eve of tomorrow’s crisis summit with Britain and Spain which looked unlikely to halt the march to military action.
The US President, who agreed to meet his close allies Tony Blair and Jose Maria Aznar on the Atlantic Azores after efforts to win new UN backing for war floundered, said there was little hope Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would disarm.
“Crucial days lie ahead for the free nations of the world,” Bush said in a weekly radio address. “There is no doubt: we will confront a growing danger, to protect ourselves, to remove a patron and protector of terror, and to keep the peace of the world.”
The tone of comments from Britain, where Blair has been desperate for a clear UN mandate for any war to placate opponents in his party and country, was equally heavy.
A spokesman said the Prime Minister was still working hard on last-ditch diplomacy — but foreign secretary Jack Straw said war now looked “much more probable” and a minister said it may only be days away.
US officials said the summit on the Portuguese islands some 1,450 km west of Europe was not a war council but was aimed at ratcheting up pressure on Saddam, diluted by France’s vow to veto any Security Council resolution for war.
They said it was a last chance for diplomacy but, barring an 11th hour compromise on the divided council, the White House would quickly shift to a war footing.
All but over at the UN
Diplomats at the UN said negotiations appeared to be all but over after Washington swiftly rejected a proposal by Chile to break the impasse over a second resolution.
Once diplomacy is exhausted, officials said, Bush would address his people, issuing what amounts to a final ultimatum to Saddam and giving aid workers and others time to leave Iraq.
UN weapons inspectors, overseeing missile dismantling in their fourth month of work, denied a gradual pull-out had begun. “We are still continuing our work. Many inspectors are on short breaks in Cyprus and new inspectors are waiting to come and replace them,” a spokesman said.
More US warships headed for the Gulf region, where some 250,000 US and British troops are poised to strike at Iraq.
Baghdad denies having the biological, chemical and nuclear arms Washington says it only has a short time left to give up.
Turkey — a key participant in the 1991 Gulf War — dashed US hopes it would play a similar role in any new conflict as Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said his government would not move swiftly to approve US troop deployments.
Tomorrow, Bush, Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Aznar will meet at the Lajes US air base on the Azores, hosted by Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manual Durao Barroso.
The three have been trying for weeks to build a nine-vote majority on the 15-nation Security Council for a resolution paving the way to war.
But only one other council member, Bulgaria, has publicly backed them, while Russia has sided with France in threatening to veto any resolution.
France says it hopes the Azores meeting “can make genuine progress towards what we all wish for, namely towards seeing to it that Iraq is genuinely disarmed”. Some UN diplomats say the summit may decide to withdraw the resolution rather than risk the humiliation, and legal complications, of seeing it voted down.