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Bush Finds Saddam's Latest Comments Discouraging

President Bush says he finds Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's latest words and deeds discouraging. Mr. Bush is once again calling on Baghdad to disarm, saying there is still time for Iraq to comply with U.N. demands.

Mr. Bush makes clear the latest signs from Iraq are not good.

He cites Iraq's recent report to the U.N. on its weapons of mass destruction, and remarks made by the Iraqi leader in a televised address Monday.

In that address, Saddam Hussein accused U.N. weapons inspectors of engaging in intelligence gathering. President Bush rejected the allegation. "Well, I thought that was an interesting statement on his part. And when you combine that with the fact his declaration was clearly deficient, it is discouraging news for those of us who want to resolve this issue peacefully," he said.

Mr. Bush was asked about the speech by reporters as he wrapped up his first formal cabinet meeting of the new year. With just three weeks to go until U.N. weapons inspectors are due to report their findings on Iraq, the president again called on Saddam Hussein to listen to the disarmament demands of the international community.

"The world has said to Saddam, you won't have any weapons of mass destruction, get rid of them," he said. "And thus far, it looks like he hasn't complied. But he's got time." Earlier, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer labeled the allegations of spying by the weapons inspectors "unfortunate." He said the inspectors are on an international mission under the auspices of the United Nations and stressed their work needs to continue.

"Saddam Hussein's statements where he accused the weapons inspectors of carrying out pure intelligence work is an attempt to divert attention from the fact that Iraq still has not shown signs it will disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Mr. Fleischer said that according to news reports Iraq has not been reluctant to spy on inspection teams in the past. He said listening devices were put in their rooms and their conversations were monitored.

"The inspectors are doing their very, very best and the president is appreciative of those efforts," he said. "But bear in mind the environment in which they find themselves working. It is the Iraqis who have put in place the hurdles."

The White House spokesman used even stronger and more emotional words in response to Saddam Hussein's comments in his speech on the twin suicide bombings Sunday in Tel Aviv. The Iraqi leader hailed the bombers. Mr. Fleischer called the praise "horrific."

The White House spokesman was then asked about retaliatory steps taken by Israel, including a decision to bar Palestinian officials from holding key meetings in the West Bank and abroad.

He noted that at least 22 people were killed in Sunday's bombing in Israel, calling it a huge attack. Mr. Fleischer said Israelis have a right to defend themselves, but said they must be mindful of the consequences.