Bush: `Time running out' for Iraq

President `sick and tired of games and deception' over banned weapons

January 15, 2003|By COX NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - President Bush lashed out yesterday at Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, saying he was "sick and tired of games and deception" concerning Baghdad's weapons of mass destruction.

Bush warned that "time is running out" for Hussein to disarm. More than 100,000 U.S. troops have deployed to the Persian Gulf region, and United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq are due to report interim findings Jan. 27.

"The world came together, and we have given him one last chance to disarm," Bush told reporters. "So far, I haven't seen any evidence that he is disarming."

Behind the tough talk, Bush is facing mounting pressure at home and abroad from critics who say he has yet to make a convincing case for war. U.S. allies have suggested that U.N. weapons inspectors need more time to do their job.

"Time is running out on Saddam Hussein," Bush said. "He must disarm. I'm sick and tired of games and deception. And that's my view of timetables."

Meanwhile, the U.S. military buildup in the region continues.

The Navy's 3rd Fleet said yesterday that seven amphibious warships - carrying about 7,000 Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., and about 3,000 sailors - have received orders to sail from San Diego on Friday. A similar task force left last weekend from Virginia.

A new Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll released yesterday showed Bush's job approval rating slipping to 58 percent.

While still above the long-term average of 55 percent for post-World War II presidents, Bush's approval rating was down from 63 percent just a week ago.

Publicly, Bush has set no deadline by which Hussein must disarm or face attack. But the president and others in the administration have expressed growing impatience.

"In simple English, he doesn't have forever," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said of Hussein.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan added his voice yesterday to the growing number of world leaders urging that weapons inspectors be given additional time to examine Iraq's weapons programs before a resort to war.

"The inspectors are just getting up to full speed," Annan said during a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York, echoing sentiments voiced by a number of European leaders and by Bush's closest military ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

While he cited "major gaps" in the information Iraq has provided to inspectors, Annan said war might be avoided.

"I am both optimistic and hopeful that if we handle the situation right and the pressure on the Iraqi leadership is maintained, and the inspectors continue to work as aggressively as they are doing, we may be able to disarm Iraq peacefully, without need to resort to war," Annan said.

At the same time, Annan has ordered U.N. planners to prepare for the possibility of a humanitarian and refugee crisis, should Bush lead an attack against Iraq.

After two months in Iraq, U.N. weapons inspectors are to report preliminary findings to the Security Council on Jan. 27. The Bush administration says the report is not being eyed as a trigger for conflict.

"It's not a D-date," Boucher said. "But at the same time, it's a very important date."

Boucher said the report is unlikely to reflect a clean slate for Iraq. "Unfortunately, what we've seen so far is continued defiance," he said.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said yesterday that his teams would require months more to complete their task.

On Monday, he said the report Jan. 27 would mark "the beginning of the inspection and monitoring process, and not the end of it."

Blix is scheduled to travel to Baghdad on Sunday with Mohamed ElBaradei - his U.N. counterpart for nuclear weapons inspections - to discuss the inspectors' progress.

"There are major gaps which need to be filled up," said Annan. "They will press for the gaps to be filled in, they will press for Iraq to be more proactive in this cooperation and they will do whatever needs to be done for them to fulfill their mandate."

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