U.S. President George W. Bush says he is "sick and tired" of Saddam Hussein's "deception" concerning weapons of mass destruction. Bush is warning that a showdown with Iraq is approaching. Yet, the United States' key NATO allies and the secretary-general of the United Nations all say the inspection process should be allowed to conclude before any possible military action is taken.
Washington, 15 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Even as U.S. President George W. Bush says Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is running out of time, his administration is stressing that a U.S.-led war against Iraq is not necessarily imminent.
The U.S. government is sending this mixed message as two important allies of Washington, Britain and Germany, are expressing support for a new United Nations resolution that would authorize war against Iraq. The UN Security Council has already approved a resolution directing Hussein to disarm or face "serious consequences."
Meanwhile, UN weapons inspectors have begun using intelligence provided by the United States in searching for evidence of nuclear-, biological-, and chemical-weapons programs in Iraq.
Washington has argued for months that such programs exist, but the inspectors say they have so far found no evidence of them since they resumed their work six weeks ago. Their first interim report is expected on 27 January.
The UN's chief weapons inspector, Swedish diplomat Hans Blix, says his teams will need several more months to complete their work adequately. And UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said at a news conference yesterday in New York that, while the inspections continue, hostilities do not seem imminent. "I don't think, from where I stand, we are at that stage yet [of military action against Iraq]. The inspectors have a responsibility in Iraq, the [UN Security] Council has asked them to pursue the disarmament program and report back, and then the council will make a determination. I think the inspectors are just getting up to full speed," Annan said.
This attitude contradicts speculation in Washington that Bush would want to begin hostilities against Iraq soon, during winter. The theory is that U.S. soldiers could not fight effectively in hot weather while wearing heavy suits designed to protect them from chemical and biological weapons.
Such speculation is fueled by a massive buildup of U.S. armed forces in the Persian Gulf region. Some observers have suggested that Bush may make his decision on or soon after 27 January, the date of the inspectors' report. But a week ago, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that date is not being looked at as a "decision day."
Since then, administration officials have repeatedly stated that Bush has imposed no deadline for deciding on war. Yesterday, both Bush and his press secretary, Ari Fleischer, repeated that there is no timetable for deciding whether to declare war on Iraq, although both are maintaining pressure on Iraq to disarm. "The president has not put any specific date on how long he thinks the inspectors will do their job, but as I made plain today, and as the president has said repeatedly, Saddam Hussein is not disarming and, therefore, time is running out," Fleischer said.
"Time is running out on Saddam Hussein. He must disarm. I'm sick and tired of games and deception, and that's my view of timetables," Bush said.
Like the Bush administration, Annan appears to be sending mixed messages as well. While asserting that he does not believe that a decision on war is imminent, Annan said that keeping pressure on Hussein's government is important. "I think there is no doubt in anyone's mind that the pressure has been effective, that it has worked. Without that pressure, I don't think the inspectors would have been back in Iraq today. It took us four years to try to get them in there, and four days after President Bush spoke at the UN and challenged the world and Iraq, Iraq has accepted to get them in, so there is no doubt that the pressure has had an effect," Annan said.
In Berlin, meanwhile, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder repeated his view that there should be no attack on Iraq without a separate UN resolution explicitly authorizing the use of force. Three months ago, the UN Security Council voted unanimously in favor of Resolution 1441, which demands that Iraq disarm or face unspecified reprisals.
In the meantime, Schroeder said, the weapons inspectors should be given plenty of time to do their work. The German leader said he does not believe war is necessary to disarm Hussein.
In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said his country also would prefer to make war against Iraq with the UN's official authorization. But he said his country -- the United States' strongest ally on the Iraq issue -- reserves the right to use military force against Iraq without it, if circumstances warrant.