Bush, Blair discuss Iraq threat

Saturday, February 1, 2003

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said Friday he would welcome a second U.N. resolution on Iraq but only if it led to the prompt disarming of Saddam Hussein. Pushing for a new resolution, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called confronting Iraq "a test of the international community."

Both leaders dismissed Iraq's offer to host U.N. weapons inspectors before their next interim report, with Bush calling the invitation a charade meant to "string the inspectors along."

Showing little patience for Saddam or for allies trying to slow his pace toward war, Bush said, "Any attempt to drag this process out for months will be resisted by the United States."

Though the leaders are largely in agreement on most Iraq issues, the news conference after their two-hour White House meeting revealed differences over diplomatic tactics and the extent of Saddam's threat.

Bush, for example, accused Iraq of being linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network and said those ties "portend a danger for America and for Great Britain, anybody who loves freedom." Blair did not make the link between Iraq and al-Qaida, though he said terrorist networks in general are tied to the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.

On the idea of a second resolution, Bush said, "It'd be welcome if it is yet another signal that we're intent upon disarming Saddam Hussein." He was notably less positive about the idea than Blair, who said it is important that the U.N. "comes together again" and passes a resolution.

Administration officials said that 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 said last fall's U.N. resolution "gives us the authority to move without any second resolution."

"This issue will come to a head in a matter of weeks, not months," Bush said.

Critics at home, abroad

Blair and Bush both have been buffeted by critics at home and abroad about their push toward war. With Britain's backing, the United States has threatened to use force to disarm Iraq if it does not give up chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs as required by the U.N. Security Council resolution passed in the fall.

"The judgment has to be at the present time that Saddam Hussein is not cooperating with the inspectors and is in breach with resolutions, and that's why time is running out," Blair said.

Bush said that Secretary of State Colin Powell, when he presents evidence to the United Nations next week, "will make it clear Saddam Hussein is fooling the world -- trying to fool the world. We'll make clear Saddam Hussein is a menace to peace."

Iraq, which maintains it has no banned weapons, warned Friday that the United States could try to plant evidence that the country had such illicit weapons. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri demanded that the United States present proof of Baghdad's banned weapons. Powell has promised to do so Wednesday at the United Nations.

"Why are they calling back the inspectors? I think it's fairly obvious," Blair said. "It's because as the pressure grows, they want to play the same games as they've been playing all the way through."

On Capitol Hill, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and three other top Democrats sent a letter to Bush requesting that Powell brief the Senate before he speaks to the United Nations.

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