Desk: UPDATES with Christopher comments on goals in Paris, Pentagon comment on Iraqi
Desk: UPDATES with Christopher comments on goals in Paris, Pentagon comment on Iraqi situation; Also edits throughout to trim.
PARIS (AP) _ Buoyed by Britain’s strong support of America’s military response in Iraq, Secretary of State Warren Christopher bid today for France to provide jet fighters and crews to patrol a no-fly zone over southern Iraq.
Christopher prepared for back-to-back meetings with French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette and President Jacques Chirac, hoping he could reverse their resistance to expanded strictures on Saddam Hussein.
``I hope the French will go forward with the operation,″ Christopher said. Currently, French warplanes are flying in the previous no-fly zone and not venturing into the extension to the outskirts of Baghdad.
State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said whatever the French position, the United States would pursue its current strategy. ``We are accompanying our objectives. If we have to do it alone, or alone with the British, we will do it,″ he said.
France has questioned the legal basis for two American missile strikes against Iraqi military targets. While disapproving of Saddam’s blitz into northern Iraq’s Kurdish region last weekend, France contends Iraq did not violate the no-fly zone policed with the United States and Britain in the north.
Also, the French are concerned the U.S. missile assault could undercut Iraq’s sovereignty, further destabilizing the volatile Persian Gulf region.
France also has opposed the decision by the United Nations to suspend for six months an arrangement for Iraq to sell up to $2 billion worth of oil, the first such sales since the Gulf War.
Christopher, meanwhile, continued to train harsh rhetoric at the Iraqi president. ``The only kind of language he understands is the language of force,″ he said.
France is Christopher’s key target on a trip initially designed to commemorate a landmark post-World War II speech offering U.S. friendship to a defeated Germany and to compare notes on elections due to be held in Bosnia in nine days.
During the visit to London, British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind reiterated his country’s strong support for the U.S. action in Iraq and said that whatever aggression Saddam undertakes ``he has to wind up paying more of a price than he thinks he has gained.″
U.S. and British pilots Wednesday began patrolling the newly enlarged exclusion zone, which now bars Iraqi aircraft from an area extending from the Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian borders to the outskirts of Baghdad _ or roughly half the country.
Citing support from Britain, Germany and some other nations, Christopher said the United States wanted to ensure that Saddam’s capacity to threaten his neighbors had been curtailed and that ``our pilots can conduct the broader no-fly zone with a minimum of risks to themselves.″
In Washington, Pentagon officials said that Iraqi forces showed no sign of challenging U.S. aircraft patrolling the southern half of the country today. U.S. intelligence said Iraqi troops in the Kurdish region to the north appeared to be backing off.
Saddam had vowed to respond to two days of U.S. cruise missile strikes during which 44 of the weapons were fired at Iraqi air-defense sites. He has ordered his troops to shoot down foreign aircraft and to violate the no-fly zone.
Christopher has been emphatic in his denunciation of the Iraqi president and said he must halt his threats to his neighbors. ``He has, in effect, condemned himself,″ the secretary told reporters.
While there is no single condition Saddam must meet to end the U.S. attacks, Christopher said ``we expect him to get out of there and let the Kurds pursue their existence, their lives and pattern of living in the future.″
And yet, Christopher said a total withdrawal was beyond reasonable U.S. expectations. ``We are not trying to monitor whether every single person that came in with him goes out,″ he said. In fact, Christopher said, ``We expect some of his assets will remain there. It’s probably not possible to re-create the full status quo.″