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Iraqi move seen as effort to rob U.S. of international support
UNITED NATIONS -- President Bush said Tuesday the United Nations Security Council "must not be fooled" by Iraq's questionable promise of unfettered weapons inspections. He told wavering world leaders to maintain pressure on Saddam Hussein to disarm.
"You can't be fooled again," the president said as his administration sought to head off attempts by Saddam to rally support at the U.N. Privately, Bush advisers said Saddam may be getting the upper hand in the public relations war.
Noting that Iraq has repeatedly made and broken similar pledges since the Persian Gulf War, Bush said, "You've got to understand the nature of the regime we're dealing with. This is a man who has delayed, denied, deceived the world. For the sake of liberty and justice for all, the United Nations Security Council must act -- must act in a way to hold this regime to account, must not be fooled, must be relevant to keep the peace."
Bush invited the four top congressional leaders to the White House for a meeting on Wednesday as administration advisers worked on the terms of legislation that would give the president the authority to use "all appropriate means" to force Iraq's disarmament, an administration official said.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Tom Daschle said, "I think there will be a vote well before the election." The comments represented a shift in tone for Daschle, D-S.D., who had earlier declined to say definitively whether the vote would take place before or after the mid-term elections.
The White House sought to take back momentum Bush had built last week when he urged the U.N. to pass a resolution demanding the Saddam disarm and meet several other stiff U.S. demands.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Saddam Hussein is playing "rope-a-dope with the world" with a promise of unfettered weapons inspections.
"We have seen this game before," Secretary of State Colin Powell said in casting doubt on the sincerity of Saddam's offer.
To underscore the point, Bush's office released a four-page timeline that specified "the Iraqi regime's repeated pattern of accepting inspections 'without conditions' and then demanding conditions, often at gunpoint." The timeline was derived by a 1998 U.N report, the White House said.
Powell said that a new Security Council resolution would keep the pressure on Baghdad. "Remember, the issue is not inspection, it is disarmament," he said.
Bush addressed the issue at a Nashville, Tenn., fund-raiser for Senate candidate Lamar Alexander and again at a local middle school while promoting civics. He warned anew of "a barbaric regime teaming up with a terrorist network, providing weapons of mass destruction to hold the United States and our allies and our friends blackmail."
"It's time for them to determine whether they'll be the United Nations, or the League of Nations. It's time to determine whether or not they'll be a force for good and peace, or an ineffective debating society," he said.
Iraq made its inspection offer Monday night, apparently hopeful that it will generate strong international opposition to the U.S. goal of installing a new regime in Baghdad, by force if necessary.
What the Iraq proposal means in practice remained to be worked out. It is not clear, for example, whether Saddam would allow the U.N. to inspect his palaces for evidence he has or is trying to develop chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.