BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Iraqi government is certain the United States will attack it, despite Baghdad's agreement to expand cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors, a senior Iraqi official said Tuesday.
"It is possible any minute, any second that while the inspectors are still here, the aggression will take place," Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said.
The Iraqi comments came as President Bush expressed impatience with allies reluctant to wage war against Saddam Hussein's regime, and the White House underlined it was willing to attack without backing from the United Nations.
Saddam has "been given ample time to disarm," Bush told reporters in Washington. "This business about more time. How much time do we need to see clearly that he's not disarming?"
A likely clash over Iraq was shaping up at the U.N Security Council. France said nothing today justifies military action and hinted it would veto any new resolution calling for war. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the top supporter of the United States, spoke out against attempts in the council to "unreasonably" block action.
The United States has rejected Iraq's claim that it has no more biological, chemical or nuclear weapons and is sending tens of thousands of troops to the Persian Gulf for a possible attack.
In negotiations Sunday and Monday with the top weapons inspectors, Iraq gave ground on procedural snares in the two-month-old U.N. monitoring regime, including promising to encourage Iraqi scientists to speak in private with inspectors.
But it will be left to teams of U.N. and Iraqi experts, in the months to come, to work out more complex issues of accounting for old stocks of doomsday weapons.
Secretary of State Colin Powell dismissed the Iraqi concessions as "just more of the same. ... Only under pressure does Iraq respond."
Iraq's Vice President Ramadan said Tuesday that Washington wants to "create the idea that Iraq isn't cooperating," in order to accuse it of a material breach.
"We hope to increase this cooperation (with inspectors) and overcome any obstacles, so we don't give the U.S. administration any pretext," he told reporters.
He said the Bush administration will attack anyway, even with more than 100 international inspectors at work here each day.
By improving cooperation with the United Nations, "we wanted to remove this cover, so the aggression would be seen as only an American-Zionist (Israeli) one," Ramadan said.
Chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N. nuclear agency, are to make a crucial report to the Security Council on Monday on progress made in the effort to ensure Iraq no longer has banned weapons programs.
If the council judges Iraq's cooperation to be poor, that could set the stage for finding the Baghdad government in "material breach" of U.N. edicts, and for a move toward military action against it.
But during a council session Monday, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin didn't rule out the possibility of a French veto if the United States sought a second Security Council resolution authorizing military action.
"In the event of second resolution ... we will not associate ourselves with military intervention that is not supported by the international community," he said, adding that use of force could "only be a last resort."
Blair has backed the U.S. stance of launching military action even without U.N. support. In London, the British people said Tuesday that "we can't have a situation in which there is a material breach recognized by everybody and yet action is unreasonably blocked."
"We must not give a signal to Saddam that there is a way out of this," Blair said. "There is not way out for Saddam on this issue."
In other developments:
--Turkey announced Tuesday that representatives of Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Jordan will meet in Istanbul on Thursday to try to find a way to prevent war in the region.
--Saddam said he was "not worried" about the possibility of attack. "I can sleep and dream with no need for sleeping pills as some do," the Iraqi leader was quoted be state media Monday as saying at a meeting.
--U.N. inspectors made unannounced visits Tuesday to the Qa Qa Company chemical and explosives plant south of Baghdad, and the Al-Mutasim missile plant to the west, among other sites.
A top aide and cousin of Saddam angrily rejected any speculation the Iraqi leader might go into exile to prevent war, as some in the Arab world have suggested.
"I tell you and the little Bush, whose father is a bigger dog than him and was not able to remove Saddam Hussein, the younger will be crushed and defeated and the whole world will laugh at him," Ali Hassan al-Majid told reporters in Beirut who asked him about the possibility of exile.
He warned that any further question on that subject would draw an "an uglier answer."
In the talks with Blix and ElBaradei, the Iraqis made concessions in a handful of procedural disputes, most notably an agreement to encourage Iraqi weapons scientists, engineers and other specialists to submit to private interviews with U.N. inspectors.
So far every potential witness approached by inspectors has declined to be interviewed without an Iraqi official present, an arrangement inspectors believe keeps the specialists from being candid.
The Iraqis also agreed to expand the list of such potential interview subjects, with advice from the U.N. experts.
The Iraqis and the inspectors also agreed on arrangements for helicopter-borne inspections to the "no-fly zones" over southern and northern Iraq, where Iraqi aircraft are excluded by patrolling U.S. and British warplanes. They agreed the inspectors' usual Iraqi escorts would be flown aboard U.N. helicopters on those trips.
The Iraqis also promised to respond to questions regarding their 12,000-page declaration on chemical, biological and nuclear programs. That document, submitted to the United Nations on Dec. 8, was criticized by both Washington and the U.N. inspectors as inadequate.
Experts from both sides will deal over a longer term with deeper issues, including questions regarding old weapons programs. Among those questions are the "disappearance" on paper of 550 artillery shells loaded with lethal mustard gas, and a lack of evidence to support Iraq's claim it destroyed large amounts of VX nerve agent.