BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said it was capable of fighting and winning not one war but two if need be, after the setback of
seeing one of its unmanned spy planes shot down over Iraq.....
While Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld upped the rhetorical pressure on both Iraq and North Korea, twin targets of Washington's drive against
weapons of mass destruction, U.N. experts pushed deep into Iraq in their hunt for banned weapons.
With the Christian season of peace and goodwill approaching, the inspectors promised to keep up the pace of their checks during the holiday, while
Iraq accused the United States of amassing enough forces in the region to wage a world war.
North Korea has diverted some attention from Iraq by scrapping international agreements and restarting a nuclear power program that Washington fears
could provide the basis for an atomic bomb.
But Rumsfeld warned it late on Monday against thinking Washington was distracted, telling a reporter:
"I have no reason to believe that you're correct that North Korea feels emboldened because of the world's interest in Iraq.
"If they do, it would be a mistake...We are capable of winning decisively in one and swiftly defeating in the case of the other...Let there be no
doubt about it."
The United States has threatened to use force to disarm Iraq if it does not comply with a tough U.N. Security Council resolution setting out
conditions for disarmament.
PUSHING THE INSPECTORS
At the same time, it has urged U.N. inspectors to be more aggressive in their visits to suspect weapons research sites, to take weapons scientists out
of Iraq for questioning, and to step up the pace of their interim reports.
On Tuesday -- Christmas Eve -- U.N. arms experts checked at least seven suspect sites, going farther south from Baghdad than at any time since they
resumed inspections on November 27.
A chemical weapons team headed toward an undisclosed site in the direction of the port city of Basra, while other chemical, nuclear, biological and
ballistics experts went to sites nearer the capital.
"We will continue work throughout the holiday. I am sure the inspectors will get a day off here and there but they are in Baghdad to work and they
will work their butts off as long as they are there," said Mark Gwozdecky, spokesman for the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Authority
(IAEA) in Vienna.
The IAEA said on Monday it had begun interviewing Iraqi scientists and was ready to take them abroad if needed.
But Gwozdecky urged states to guarantee protection for these scientists and their families. The United States, in particular, has yet to offer blanket
guarantees of asylum to all the Iraqis the inspectors question.
"Governments have to step forward and offer protection and even asylum to those people," he said on Tuesday.
"We don't control governmental decisions in this regard, so that is something we cannot control the pace of. We are prepared to use the authority,
but we have to think it through."
At the United Nations in New York, sources familiar with Iraq's arms declarations said it had failed to account for a quantity of around 6,000
chemical bombs that its own documents said had been left over from its 1980-88 war with Iran.
Washington has made no secret of its build-up of forces across the region to back its threat to wage war on Iraq.
Iraq, which insists it has scrapped all banned weapons programs, on Monday shot down an unmanned U.S. Predator spy plane worth $3 million over the
south of the country.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz told an Arab solidarity conference in Baghdad the same day: "Is it possible that all this military
build-up...is merely for targeting Iraq and changing the Iraqi ruling regime as they alleged?
"It is a strategic build-up for a war at the level of a world war which is at this stage targeting all the Arab nation."
Turkey, a NATO member that is one of Washington's closest allies and borders Iraq, is expected to provide airbases and other support if the United
States does go to war.
Prime Minister Abdullah Gul summoned his top ministers on Monday night for talks on Iraq, and a top Israeli general was in Ankara to meet his Turkish
counterpart on Tuesday.
"Our talks about developments in our neighbor should not be seen as preparation for war but we have to be prepared for scenarios," Gul told a
meeting of his Justice and Development Party in parliament.
The threat of war in Iraq and the disruption in supplies from strike-bound Venezuela pushed oil prices near two-year highs on Tuesday. U.S. light
crude hit a peak of $32 a barrel in early trade, its highest since January 2001.