Time running out for Saddam, Bush says

By RICHARD TOMKINS, UPI White House Correspondent  |  Jan. 14, 2003 at 3:49 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush said Tuesday he was "sick and tired" of Saddam Hussein's games and deceit with the international community and warned that time was running out for him to voluntarily divest Iraq of suspected weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq has been given one last chance by the international community after 11 years of violating U.N. mandates, Bush said. "So far I haven't seen any evidence he is disarming.

"Time is running out for Saddam Hussein," he said at the beginning of a meeting with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski. "He must disarm."

"I'm sick and tired of games and deception," he added. "And that's my view of timetables."

Bush's sharp remarks were in response to a reporter's question about comments by U.N. weapons inspectors that they needed more time to conduct their operations in Iraq, which resumed in November after a four-year hiatus.

Hans Blix, the head of the inspection team, together with the director of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, have reported information gaps in Iraq's 12,000-page documentation of its weapons programs, but inspectors on the ground have so far failed to find a smoking gun -- proof positive of hidden caches of weapons of mass destruction, their precursor materials, or manufacturing processes.

Inspectors did find evidence of Iraq importing weapons materials in violation of U.N. sanctions, but it has not yet determined if those materials were for weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. allies, given the lack of proof positive, have been urging the United States to use restraint and have called for more time for the inspection teams.

"Well, of course the president thinks that they're doing good, and that's why he wanted them (the inspectors) to go there," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday. "But the fact of the matter is, if Saddam Hussein is hiding his weapons from them, it makes it very hard for them to fulfill their mission."

"He has the ability and the means to hide the weapons that he has developed and that he is developing. I think the declaration that he made is proof positive that he has withheld information about his weapons of mass destruction program -- programs that these previous inspectors said were there when they were forced out of the country in 1998, and now Saddam Hussein still has failed to account for the weapons that's there," he said.

The United States argues the onus of proof rests with Saddam and not with inspectors. Iraq must prove it does not have chemical and biological weapons.

On Jan. 27, the day before Bush is scheduled to give his annual State of the Union address to both houses of Congress, the inspectors are slated to give a report to the U.N. Security Council on their progress and Iraqi cooperation and truthfulness. Speculation is rife that Jan. 27 will mark the countdown to military action against Iraq by the United States and Britain, but the administration consistently has said the president has yet to make a decision on war with Iraq and that there was no timetable for action or for determining when inspections should conclude.

"Well, the inspectors have more time. But time is running out," Fleischer said. "This is a question of not allowing Saddam Hussein to string the world along forever. And I don't think the two are at all hard to understand or incompatible."

Military analysts have said the optimum time for possible conflict with Iraq would end in early spring, when temperatures rise in the Gulf region.

The United States already has 60,000 troops in the area, with another 67,000 on the way. Combat aircraft have also been sent to the area, as well as two, seven-ship ship flotillas -- which include some 6,000 Marines.

Bush went to the United Nations last September and called for action to force Iraq to adhere to international mandates that he said Saddam had disregarded since the end of the Gulf War in 1993.

If the United Nations failed to act, he said, the United States and a "coalition of the willing" would disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction by force.

Washington says Iraq poses a grave danger to world peace, given the Iraqi leader's previous use of weapons of mass destruction against Iran and dissident Kurds, his aggressive behavior in the region, and his suspected support of terrorism, which, according to the Bush administration, could eventually see Iraq acting as a conduit for weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups.

Under the U.S.-prompted Security Council resolution on Iraq in November, failure by Iraq to account for its weaponry and to fully and completely cooperate with inspectors could result in unspecified "serious consequences."

The United States, although pursuing a multilateral path on Iraq, has made it clear it has not forsworn taking unilateral action if needed.

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