WASHINGTON -- The United States was dispatching Patriot defensive missiles and support troops to the Persian Gulf last night, even as Iraq said it would allow unfettered weapons inspections of its territory by United Nations helicopters.
But Iraq continued to detain 44 nuclear inspectors for the second day. The U.N.-sponsored team, in six cars and a bus drawn up in a circle outside a Baghdad administration building, were kept surrounded throughout the night. Team members told U.S. television networks that they would not give up the inspection materials the Iraqis were demanding.
President Bush, calling the detention of the inspectors "unacceptable behavior," warned, "I would not want to see Saddam Hussein miscalculate yet again."
The U.N. Security Council, meeting last night, pressed ahead with plans to send helicopters into Iraq to test Baghdad's cooperation.
Earlier yesterday, Mr. Bush refrained from setting a deadline and said he wanted to get more information and consult further with allies before declaring his next move.
"I'm not drawing any deadline. If I do, you'll know about it," he said. "We do not want to see any more anguish inflicted on the Iraqi people, but overriding that is the international community's determination that these resolutions be fully complied with.
"We are going to get a little more information, do a lot of consultation, then, if we decide to take a different public stance, we'll do it."
The Iraqi agreement on the helicopters may have fallen short of total capitulation, Western diplomats said. But a fed-up Security Council signaled that it would allow no further bargaining.
French envoy Jean-Bernard Merimee, this month's council president, said in a statement that he had been instructed by the council to treat the Iraqi reply "as an unconditional acceptance" of the U.N. resolution calling for the use of helicopters.
"Technical modalities would be set up in the coming days," his statement said.
The Security Council also condemned Iraq's detention of the nuclear inspectors yesterday and demanded that they be allowed to leave with all the documents they had collected.
An Army official said that "something less than a complet battalion"of Patriots was scheduled to leave Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany for Saudi Arabia early this morning as soon as transport could be provided.
A senior Pentagon official said 24 launchers and their 96 Patriot missiles were being sent, along with an unspecified number of reloads. There could be as many as 1,200 troops involved, he said.
The Patriots are part of the 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment based in Kaiserslautern, Germany, the Army official said.
The anti-missile missiles were sought by the Saudis, which came under Iraqi missile attack in the gulf war. the Patriots are crucial to enlisting Saudi cooperation in basing U.S. air operations there.
At the Pentagon, meanwhile, a senior military official said, "Allwe're waiting for is the White House to say 'Go.' "
Asked whether the military was ready to start escorting helicopter-borned inspections of Iraqi weapons sites, the official said, "You'll see soon enough."
But the United States still had not completed the necessar diplomatic preparation, including consultations with other members of the Security Council and a direct request to Saudi Arabia to accept additional U.S.forces, sources said.
U.S. Ambassador Charles Freeman met Monday in Saudi Arabia with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi envoy to Washington, who is close to King Fahd, but the U.S. approach to the king had not yet been worked out regarding planes and support troops to accompany and protect the U.N. helicopters.
The Bush administration remained determined to force Iraq to allow unfettered inspections of its weapons of mass destruction, but officials said the White House wanted to avoid being driven by the latest provocation.
"There's a determination to pursue it, but not to act hastily and unleash military action for the sake of it," an administration official said.
"It's got to have a purpose. It's got to have a goal. It's got to be effective, and it's got to be appropriate."
Yesterday's detention of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors occurred as the inspectors pored over documents showing the administrative and personnel structure of
Iraq's nuclear program and its sources of equipment.
Throughout the day, the leader of the inspection team, David Kay, broadcast updates of the group's confinement via satellite telephone to CNN from outside an Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission administration building.
The 44 weapons inspectors were barred from leaving in their buses after refusing to surrender photocopies and videotapes they had made of material unearthed in their search.
"We were into documentation in essentially three areas. First, the administrative and personnel structure of the nuclear program, and particularly the nuclear weapons and missile material," Mr. Kay, an American, told NBC last night.