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Bush Keeps Pressure on Iraq As Dec. 8 Deadline Approaches - 2002-12-02


President Bush is keeping pressure on Iraq as a key deadline approaches for Baghdad to declare its weapons of mass destruction. The president indicates he's skeptical Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will comply with the disarmament demands of the U.N.

President Bush says weapons inspectors may be back in Iraq, but that does not mean Saddam Hussein is ready to fully disarm.

He says the Iraqis continue to shoot at planes patrolling no-fly zones, and have expressed their defiance in messages to the U.N.

"So far, the signs are not encouraging. A regime that fires upon American and British pilots is not taking the path of compliance. A regime that sends letters filled with protests and falsehoods is not taking the path of compliance," he said.

Mr. Bush points to December 8, the deadline for Iraq to provide a full accounting of its weapons of mass destruction and related missile programs. He says Saddam Hussein has a choice to make.

"That declaration must be credible and complete. Or the Iraqi dictator will demonstrate to the world once again that he has chosen not to change his behavior," he said.

The president made the remarks at the Pentagon, where he signed legislation setting defense spending priorities. Once again, he said he sees the use of force against Iraq as a last resort, but left no doubt he is willing to act if necessary to disarm Saddam Hussein.

"War is the last option for confronting threats. Yet the temporary peace of denial and looking away from danger would only be a prelude to broader war and greater horror," he said.

Mr. Bush spoke as U.N. weapons inspectors continued their visits to suspected sites in Iraq. The president warned Baghdad against playing games with the inspection process.

"The inspectors are not in Iraq to play hide-and-seek with Mr. Saddam Hussein," he said. "Inspectors do not have the duty or the ability to uncover terrible weapons hid in a vast country. The responsibility of inspectors is simply to confirm the results of voluntary, total disarmament. It is Saddam Hussein who has the responsibility to provide that evidence."

Vice President Dick Cheney emphasized similar themes in a speech a few hours earlier in Denver, Colorado. He talked about the link between the threat posed by Iraq and the war on terrorism, noting groups like al-Qaida could forge alliances with Baghdad in order to obtain weapons of mass destruction. He said the war on terror will not be won until Iraq is completely and verifiably disarmed.

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