More U.S. Firepower Going to Persian Gulf: Cohen Prepares for Strikes on Iraq

Article excerpt

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen yesterday accelerated the arrival of a second carrier in the Persian Gulf, warning Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that contemplated U.S. air strikes would cause "significant degradation of his capacity" to make war.

Signaling military action is near, Mr. Cohen said, "I think that we've all indicated that time is running out on this, that it can't go on forever, that diplomacy always should have every opportunity to dance, but at some point a dance has a beginning and an end."

Mr. Cohen's tough words came after the third straight day White House national security advisers met to deal with Iraq's decision Oct. 31 to block United Nations weapons inspectors.

White House officials said President Clinton was presented with a number of military options, but made no final decision.

Press Secretary Joe Lockhart took a hard line against the Iraqi refusal to let inspectors uncover components for making biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. "This is not a situation where we're looking for a negotiation," he said. "There's nothing to negotiate."

Mr. Clinton spent the day consulting with allied leaders, particularly British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Pentagon officials said the Persian Gulf buildup means Mr. Clinton is leaning toward a decision to authorize decisive air strikes against Iraqi military targets, using both manned bombers and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

In New York, an Iraqi diplomat was asked whether he thought the Pentagon was making military movements public to put pressure on his country.

"It is not a negotiating tactic," he replied. U.S. officials "have made their decision, and I believe it is military."

He said Iraq has had ongoing contacts with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan - who headed off U.S. air strikes in February - but that they had yielded no results.

The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, which sailed from Norfolk this past weekend, will arrive in the Persian Gulf Nov. 23, three days early, to relieve the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower. Mr. Cohen did not rule out the possibility that the two carriers will remain there in tandem to unleash F-18 fighter bombers. …