CBSN

U.S. Seeks Support Against Iraq

U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen pressed ahead with a tour of Gulf Arab states on Thursday to whip up support among America's regional allies in the latest confrontation with Iraq.

Baghdad maintained its defiance of the United Nations over weapons inspections, and its official press dismissed a draft Security Council resolution, saying Iraq would not resume cooperation with the arms experts until its demands regarding an end to economic sanctions were met.

Cohen arrived in Oman from Qatar and immediately held talks with Sultan Qaboos bin Said on the crisis.

He said after the meeting that Iraq's decision to halt cooperation with arms inspectors was "totally unacceptable" and threatened regional stability.

"We...reviewed Iraq's continued intransigence and violation of its obligations under United Nations Security Council resolutions and the memorandum of understanding signed with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in February of this year," Cohen said before his departure.

At least publicly, there appears to be little support for any U.S. military action against Iraq.

However, President Clinton on Thursday disputed suggestions that U.S. allies in the Gulf did not support U.S. policy on the matter.

"We believe we'll have the support we need, and all options are on the table," Clinton told reporters after a meeting with congressional Democratic leaders.

"My information is that Secretary Cohen had a good trip and we believe we'll have the support that we need for whatever decisions we ultimately make."

Cohen had earlier visited Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain after talks with his British counterpart George Robertson in London.

He left Saudi Arabia saying he was "confident the U.S. will have the support it needs to take appropriate action."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said Cohen would arrive in Egypt on Thursday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak. On Friday the defense secretary is due to visit Turkey.

Iraq announced last Saturday it was ceasing what little cooperation it had maintained with U.N. weapons teams since August 5, when it began barring all intrusive inspections, such as spot searches of suspect sites with little advance notice.

The Security Council reached broad agreement on Wednesday night on a draft resolution that would condemn Iraq's decision and demand an unconditional reversal.

Both Britain and the United States said they hoped for a vote on Thursday after the 15 council members send a revised text to their capitals for final approval.

The document does not authorize military action, as the United States and Britain have threatened, and neither country tried to get such language inserted.

However, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said on Thursday the West already had the legal basis to launch air strikes on Iraq if Baghdad continued to defy the United Nations over weaons inspections.

"We don't need that authority. We are quite confident that if it came to that, there is adequate legal basis for us to proceed. All options are open as I have made clear," he told BBC radio.

Cook said a U.N. resolution earlier this year, which threatened Iraq with the "severest consequences" unless it cooperated with the inspectors, provided the legal basis for air strikes if necessary.

"We don't want to take military action. What we have said that all options are open and if [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein does not respond he must recognize what that resolution warned him," he said.

But Baghdad appeared in no mood to back down.

"Whatever the British draft resolution and whatever its final shape, Iraq will not retreat from its decision unless the Security Council responds to Iraq's legitimate rights," the ruling Baath Party newspaper al-Thawra said.

It said the "resolution would not lead to a just solution to the crisis, rather it would complicate it."

Babel, Iraq's most influential newspaper, attacked Cohen's tour of Arab Gulf states. "A failing tour and threats that would not scare us," read a front-page headline in the paper.

"This imperialist military might would not scare the Iraqi people, rather it would consolidate its resistance and show more allegiance to their brave leadership," said the paper, which is owned by Saddam's eldest son Uday.

The United States has some 24,000 troops, an aircraft carrier, and some 170 warplanes and helicopters in the Gulf region, according to the Pentagon.

It is not clear, however, whether the United States' Gulf allies would allow the use of bases on their territory.

©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report