WASHINGTON – Despite the return of United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq, President Bush said "the signs are not encouraging" about Saddam Hussein's willingness to disarm.
In a get-tough speech at the Pentagon on Monday, Bush repeated his vow to lead a coalition to take away Iraq's weapons of mass destruction if Saddam does not fully comply with U.N. demands.
"The inspectors are not in Iraq to play hide-and-seek with Mr. Saddam Hussein," the president said in his first extensive comment on the United Nations weapons inspections since they got underway last week.
"In the inspections process, the United States will be making one judgment: Has Saddam Hussein changed his behavior of the last 11 years? Has he decided to cooperate willingly and comply completely, or has he not? So far the signs are not encouraging," Bush said.
As evidence, he noted that Saddam's regime has recently fired upon American and British pilots patrolling no-fly zones over Iraq and has responded to U.N. disarmament demands with "protests and falsehoods."
Iraq has until Sunday to declare all of its banned biological, chemical and nuclear weapons work, as well as its long-range missiles, under a U.N. Security Council resolution unanimously approved last month. Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Al-Douri, said the declaration could be ready as early as Wednesday.
"There will be nothing surprising," Aldouri said. "We have repeated our position several times that we have nothing hidden."
Bush's position is that Iraq has indeed hidden chemical and biological weapons and banned missiles, and has not abandoned its nuclear weapons program.
The Iraqi declaration "must be credible and complete," Bush said, "or the Iraqi dictator will have demonstrated to the world once again that he has chosen not to change his behavior."
Making clear that the consequence would be war, the president added: "The temporary peace of denial and looking away from danger would only be a prelude to broader war and greater horror. America will confront gathering dangers early before our options become limited and desperate."
Bush spoke at a Pentagon ceremony where he also signed legislation authorizing the $355.5 billion that he requested — and received earlier this year — for the military.
Across the country, Vice President Dick Cheney rounded out the White House's one-two punch at Saddam with a similar speech to 1,500 Air National Guard leaders meeting in Denver.
Cheney aimed to link the popular post-Sept. 11, 2001 war on terrorism and Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terror network to today's campaign against Iraq.
Cheney said that, given the chance, Al Qaeda would join outlaw regimes like Iraq to get weapons of mass destruction.
"That's why confronting the threat imposed by Iraq is not a distraction from the war on terror, it is absolutely crucial to winning the war on terror. The war on terror will not be won until Iraq is completely and verifiably deprived of weapons of mass destruction," Cheney said.
Cheney told the military leaders that the campaign could take years.
"This campaign may not be finished on our watch, but it must and it will be waged on our watch," Cheney said.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush will not himself review the Iraqi disclosures due on Sunday.
Bush will decide on the timing of any subsequent action — diplomatic, military or otherwise, Fleischer said. He said Bush is not yet making any judgments on whether the inspections will be successful in disarming Saddam peacefully.
"The president is skeptical that Saddam Hussein will comply and it's too soon to say. One week is not adequate time," Fleischer said.
A senior White House official said Iraq has not been as cooperative with U.N. inspectors as early reports suggest. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not elaborate.
White House officials said they do not expect Bush to take immediate action against Saddam after the deadline, even if Iraq claims not to have weapons of mass destruction. Instead, the administration is prepared to share its intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs with inspectors to help verify and challenge whatever disclosures Saddam makes, officials said.
Bush also announced Monday that his special envoy to Afghanistan will become an ambassador-at-large for "Free Iraqis." In that post, Zalmay Khalilzad will serve as the main U.S. contact and coordinator for the Iraqi opposition and will oversee Bush's preparations for Iraq after Saddam.