WASHINGTON – President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair put Saddam Hussein on notice Friday afternoon at the White House:
Disarm now, or face attack soon from a coalition of allied forces.
"Saddam Hussein is not disarming. He is a danger to the world. He must disarm. This issue will come to a head in a matter of weeks, not months," Bush said at a joint news conference following an afternoon summit with Blair at the White House. "Any attempt to drag the process on for months will be resisted by the United States."
"This is a test to the international community . . . not just a test for the United States or Britain," Blair said. "Saddam Hussein is not cooperating and therefore is in breach, and time is running out."
Bush said Saddam's invitation to U.N. weapons inspectors to return to Iraq was "more deception" and a "charade," and Blair added: "For 12 years he's played these games."
Blair stressed that the international community must form a coalition against the Iraqi dictator if it wants to prove it's serious about taking out terrorists. He said U.N. Resolution 1441, which calls on Iraq to disarm, "very clearly" states that Saddam had a last chance to own up to his arms program — a chance he's blown, the two leaders said.
On the idea of new U.N. resolution authorizing war to disarm Iraq, Bush said, "It'd be welcome if it is yet another signal that we're intent upon disarming Saddam Hussein." He was less positive about the idea than Blair, who said it is important that the United Nation "comes together again" and passes a resolution.
Bush won't seek a second resolution unless he is assured it won't be vetoed on the Security Council, administration officials said. They said France's position is the hardest to gauge.
U.S. officials said the leaders are not far apart on the issue but that Blair is pushing harder than Bush, and the president would like to accommodate his closest ally against Iraq. Still, Bush noted that last fall's resolution "gives us the authority to move without any second resolution."
Blair, who is Bush's closest ally in the effort to disarm Saddam Hussein, said earlier in the day that he saw no need for setting an "arbitrary timetable" for the end of diplomatic efforts to persuade Iraq to comply with the U.N.'s disarmament demands.
But, echoing comments from White House officials, he said a scheduled report from weapons inspectors on Feb. 14 was a pivotal moment, after which "action should follow."
Bush and Blair have been applying increasing pressure on Saddam, warning the Iraqi president that time is short for peaceful disarmament. Both the U.S. and Britain have been dispatching forces to the Persian Gulf.
Blair said Friday that Iraq must provide "100 percent cooperation" with United Nations weapons inspectors, and "it's absolutely clear they're not."
He made his comments a few hours before meeting with Bush at the White House. Plans for the two men to meet in the less formal surroundings of the presidential retreat at Camp David were scrapped because of bad weather.
Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain's ambassador to Washington, said that devising the road map for the coming weeks, including a timetable, was the prime goal of the meeting.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush and Blair will "talk about the best steps to work together, to consult with a friend and ally, about how to keep the pressure on so Saddam Hussein disarms."
Bush and Blair arranged their meeting at the same time the Pentagon carried out the latest phase of a psychological campaign to loosen Saddam's grip on his country. U.S. aircraft dropped 360,000 leaflets over Al Kut in southern Iraq to indicate local radio frequencies on which Iraqis can hear U.S. messages broadcast from EC-130 Commando Solo aircraft.
Some of the leaflets warned that Iraqis who repair fiber optic communications sites in southern Iraq are in danger of being killed by periodic U.S. and British bombings.
Vice President Dick Cheney told members of the Republican National Committee that the threat posed by Iraq is too great to ignore. "Confronting the threat offered by Iraq is not a distraction in the war on terror," Cheney said. "It is absolutely crucial to waging the war on terror."
Bush welcomed Blair at the White House as part of what the administration says will be a busy, brief round of diplomacy aimed at building the case against Saddam. Thus far, Bush's schedule is largely devoted to leaders already on his side, including a telephone call Friday to Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic, and a meeting next week with Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller.
Bush meets Tuesday with Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the king of Bahrain. That nation, with its useful naval facilities, has stood with the United States in the past.
On the eve of the critical Blair summit, Bush administration officials cautioned there was no firm deadline for when talks with allies would cease and the president would make a decision on war.
But the administration's timetable of "weeks, not months" — uttered by Bush and administration officials throughout the day — was given some specificity. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the administration envisions a diplomatic window of "a couple of weeks" — which would coincide with the weapons inspectors' Feb. 14 report to the U.N. Security Council.
Several senior administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that if Saddam has not disarmed and diplomacy has run its course when the report is filed, Bush is unlikely to condone more weapons inspections.
Blair, in a televised interview, declined to say how much longer diplomacy — and the weapons inspectors — should be given to work.
"I don't think we should have some arbitrary timetable," he said. "I think what we need to do is to have the timing governed by the judgment, are the inspectors getting the full cooperation. Not 50 percent, 60 percent, 20 percent cooperation, 100 percent cooperation from the Iraqi authorities. Now at the moment, it's absolutely clear they're not," he said.
As evidence, he said Iraq has not disclosed what became of "literally thousands of munitions and chemical and biological agents left over from 1998," and that Baghdad has not allowed Iraqi scientists to be interviewed in private.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.