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Clinton Rallies U.S. for Action against Iraq

Friday February 13 7:12 PM EST

By David Storey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Clinton set out Friday to rally Americans behind a looming military attack on Iraq, in which the top U.S. general said U.S. pilots would be lost.

Clinton, who will visit the Pentagon early next week to discuss military plans, said Washington would not be deterred by opposition from Russia to attacking Iraq's chemical and biological weapons sites if President Saddam Hussein does not back down and allow U.N. inspectors free access.

"'Nyet' is not 'No' for the United States under these circumstances," Clinton said. Moscow has long-standing ties with Baghdad and wants to press on for a diplomatic solution.

Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters there was a detailed plan to strike Iraq with cruise missiles and bombs, but he expected American pilots to be lost and Iraqi civilians hurt in any raids.

"The truth is, war is a dirty thing ... We will lose some people, and that weighs heavily," Shelton said at a breakfast with defense journalists.

But he added: "The clock is ticking and we can't go on forever. And Saddam is the guy who is going to have to push the stop button."

Clinton's National Security Adviser Sandy Berger declined to say how Washington would judge that diplomatic efforts were exhausted and that it was time to use force against Saddam.

"We'll know it. He may not," he said. He said he was skeptical a diplomatic solution could be found but noted that Saddam had reversed himself during similar crises in the past.

Berger set out the U.S. strategy in a speech at the National Press Club, using charts, citing horrific crimes and warning of dire regional threats that could undermine U.S. national security interests, including oil supply lines.

He said the explicit goal of any attack was not to remove Saddam. But he said as long as the Iraqi leader remained in power "we must be prepared to respond firmly to his reckless actions." He added: "The United States will not go away."

Berger noted that other countries have nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, but added:

"With Saddam Hussein, there is one big difference -- he has used them. Not once, but repeatedly. Not only against combatants, but against civilians. Not only against a foreign adversary, but against his own people. I have no doubt he will use them again if his capacity to rebuild his arsenal is left unchecked."

Berger said Britain, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Australia, New Zealand and Canada were prepared to provide "forces, bases or logistical support" for military action and the list was growing daily.

Berger, Defense Secretary William Cohen, who has just ended a trip to the Gulf and Moscow, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will make a joint pitch to rally public opinion behind the tough stand next Wednesday.

The State Department said they would travel to Columbus, Ohio to explain Clinton's determination to respond to Iraqi intransigence with selective strikes.

Clinton would go to the Pentagon Tuesday to discuss plans for Iraq, a senior military official said Friday.

"He will talk to the chiefs of staff in the tank (a secure briefing room) about Iraq. He might give a speech, probably in the (Pentagon) auditorium," the official said.

Clinton said Washington would not allow Saddam to walk away from his obligations to the United Nations to allow full and unfettered access to suspected weapons sites and he still hoped for a diplomatic resolution.

"It will be Saddam Hussein's decision, not mine," he said, speaking to reporters at a White House ceremony.

Shelton reiterated U.S. confidence that any strikes ordered by Clinton would degrade Iraq's ability to produce chemical and biological weapons and threaten its neighbors despite intelligence shortfalls on where the production sites are.

While refusing to give details of prospective targets in any attack, Shelton said that air-launched cruise missiles, ship-fired Tomahawk cruise missiles (TLAMs), stealth jets and laser-guided bombing would be used.

He stressed hospitals and other such civilian sites would not be targets and planners were anxious to protect Iraqi citizens, but said, "Innocents will be injured. We are all aware of that."

"We have cruise missiles and TLAMs that will go in against appropriate targets," he said, suggesting that radar-avoiding F-117A stealth bombers would soften up air defenses before other attack planes made bombing runs.

The general said the military was deeply concerned about Iraqi air defenses despite the fact that they were no longer as robust as they were during the 1991 Gulf War.

He suggested air defenses around heavily-defended Baghdad, for example, "would be taken out first" before attack planes without radar-evading abilities were allowed to move in.

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