Top Bush administration officials are presenting a united front on American television, warning time is running out for Iraq. They spoke as the chief U.N. weapons inspector and the head of the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency held crucial talks in Baghdad.
The inspectors hope to increase Iraqi cooperation in advance of an important report to the Security Council due on January 27.
The head of the inspection team Hans Blix told CNN's Late Edition that there have been problems with the Iraqis in recent days. "We, of course, tell the Iraqis that they are, in our view, in grave danger, that the situation is tense. And they should do their utmost to cooperate and to give the best conditions for us to work," he said.
The inspectors say it will take months to complete their job. But during an interview on the Fox News Sunday television program, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke in terms of a much shorter time frame.
"If the test is, 'Are the Iraqis going to cooperate?' that is something you are going to know in [a] matter of weeks, not in months or in years," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld also talked about the possibility that Saddam Hussein might go into exile. On the ABC television program This Week, he was asked if the United States might offer immunity from war crimes prosecution.
The defense secretary said that is a matter for the president and the attorney general to decide, but he made clear he would not be opposed.
"To avoid a war, I would personally recommend that some provision be made so that the senior leadership in that country and their families could be provided haven in some other country. And I think that that would be a fair trade to avoid a war," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
He went on to say there is also a chance the Iraqi people will take action. "I think that the people in his country know what a vicious regime he runs and they may decide to throw him out," the defense secretary said.
On NBC's Meet the Press, White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said she favors exploring all sorts of ways to get Saddam Hussein out of power. But she added a note of caution.
"I just think that it is unlikely that this man is going to come down in any other way than to be forced," Ms. Rice said.
She repeated the White House stand that there is no deadline for the weapons inspectors and no timetable for a decision on military action. She noted once again that the January 27 report by the weapons inspectors will be important, and added it could mark the start of "the last phase.