WASHINGTON – President Bush said Tuesday he is "sick and tired of games of deception," and warned that "time is running out" for Saddam Hussein to prove he has no weapons of mass destruction.
The extended hunt for evidence that the Iraqi president was defying the United Nations could complicate the timing of Bush's decision on whether to go to war.
While Bush has said from the outset he would not be held hostage by the U.N. Security Council, he is looking for the widest possible consensus and the broadest coalition if he decides to attack.
The inspectors' timetable stretches well beyond Jan. 27 when they are due to report on 60 days of searching for weapons of mass destruction and a missile program.
Bush told reporters at the White House that he had not seen any evidence the Iraqi president was disarming under more than a decade of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
"He must disarm," Bush said. "I'm sick and tired of games and deceptions. And that's my view of timetables."
But nearly four months after demanding the Security Council threaten Iraq with force -- and threatening to act alone if need be -- Bush was not ready to attack.
He is continuing, however, to build up U.S. firepower in the Gulf region. The Navy's 3rd Fleet in California announced Tuesday that seven amphibious warships have received orders to depart their home port at San Diego on Friday. They will be carrying about 7,000 Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., and about 3,000 San Diego-based sailors. A similar-sized amphibious task force departed last weekend from ports in Virginia. Together they will give U.S. commanders in the Gulf region a variety of offensive options.
The chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, meanwhile, is describing the Jan. 27 report as an interim update. It would mark "the beginning of the inspection and monitoring process and not the end of it," Blix said Monday.
On Tuesday, the Swedish diplomat told The Associated Press the inspectors needed months to finish their searches.
So far, the inspectors have not produced substantial evidence to support U.S. allegations Saddam has hidden caches of weapons of mass destruction and a missile program.
But Blix, who will go to Baghdad on Sunday with Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said "there are a great many open questions as to their possession of weapons of mass destruction" and "we need to have more evidence supplied to us."
Saddam's future continued to stir speculation around the world, with reports intensifying that he might be offered haven outside Iraq.
The State Department basically blessed that idea.
"It would be a good idea if he took the opportunity to leave," spokesman Richard Boucher said. "It would save all of us a lot of trouble if he could be replaced by a regime that was willing to treat its people decently and not threaten its neighbors with weapons of mass destruction."
"At the same time," Boucher said, "I don't think we're counting on it. We're not engaged in any deep or serious discussions on the subject at this point since he's indicated no particular willingness to do that."
Summing up, the spokesman said: "So it would be a good idea if he did, but I think we have to be prepared to resolve this in other ways."
While Bush has reserved the option of not waiting for the Security Council to authorize use of force, most U.S. allies including Britain want to defer any attack until the Council considers Iraq's behavior again.
And then there are some allies, such as Germany, which have ruled out the use of force in any event.
Boucher said the United States has provided the inspectors only with intelligence material on Iraq that "they are able to use."
As the inspectors "get interested in other things" and step up their pace the Bush administration would be willing to make more data available, the spokesman said.
Even as a decision on going to war remained on hold, the Pentagon increased the array of naval power in the Persian Gulf area.
Two seven-ship armadas carrying thousands of Marines were being deployed, and the Navy prepared to add up to four aircraft carriers to the two carriers already in the area.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.