Pressuring Saddam - a Delicate Job

PRESIDENT Bush has to balance a number of delicate concerns as he prods Saddam Hussein toward full compliance with a United Nations resolution requiring disclosure and subsequent destruction of Iraq's nuclear-weapons capabilities.First, he has to recognize that the threat to renew the bombing of Iraq - still a "very viable option," says the president - could endanger the peace process laboriously nurtured by Secretary of State James Baker. Every participant in the proposed regional conference has apprehensions about such a move - ranging from Arab concerns about further injury to Iraqi civilians to Israeli and Saudi worries about renewed Scud attacks. Given Saddam's habit of playing on Arab-Israeli tensions, it would be ironic if American efforts to punish Iraq hurt the chances of lessening those tensions. Second, the president has to weigh the reluctance of many of his Gulf crisis partners to resume hostilities. Turkey, host to the rapid response force that provides protection for the Kurds, says it won't allow fresh bombing to originate from its soil. Not least, the Soviet Union has voiced concerns, and Mr. Bush has important business to conclude with Mikhail Gorbachev this week, including joint sponsorship of a Middle East peace gathering. Third, the United States can't ignore humanitarian concerns in its determination to remain tough with Saddam. UN officials have documented Iraq's growing food and health-care problems. Bush asserts the US will back efforts to meet those needs, and has even said he's willing to consider a slight loosening of the ban on Iraqi oil sales - if the revenue can be channeled to international aid agencies to assure that it benefits Iraq's thousands of needy, instead of Saddam's privileged few. These delicately balanced concerns will test the president's diplomatic skills - skills that could face an even greater test if Israelis and Arabs actually sit down to discuss how another set of UN resolutions ought to be interpreted and enforced.

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