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Bush Says Monday to be Final Day for Diplomatic Efforts on Iraq - 2003-03-16

U.S. President George W. Bush says Monday will be the final day for diplomatic efforts to disarm Iraq and avoid military action. Mr. Bush announced the deadline following a hastily arranged summit Sunday with key allies at an air base in the Portuguese Azore Islands.

President Bush said Monday will be a "moment of truth for the world." He said at a news conference, "Tomorrow is the day that we will determine whether or not diplomacy can work."

Standing side-by-side with the leaders of Britain and Spain and summit host Portugal, the president said Iraq's Saddam Hussein has defied international disarmament demands for far too long. He said there will be one last intense push for diplomacy, but made clear the window of opportunity is about to slam shut.

"We will be working the phones, talking to our partners and talking to others who may not clearly understand the objective, and we will see how it goes tomorrow," he said.

The image of this summit was a portrait of unity. One by one, the participants spoke of the need for the world to come together on Iraq. Their determination, tinged with frustration, was very evident in the words of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He said there are some Security Council members who want no ultimatum, and no authorization of the use of force, just more talk.

"But the truth is, that without a credible ultimatum authorizing force in the event of non-compliance, then more discussion is just more delay," he said.

Nine votes on the 15-member council are needed to pass a resolution. But any of the five permanent members can cast a veto. France has threatened to do so in this case, prompting some tough words from President Bush. He was asked if, in the end, the measure will ever come up for a vote.

"I was the one who said there should be a vote. And one country voted. They "showed their cards." It's an old Texas expression - "show your cards" - while playing poker. France showed their cards. After I said what I said, they said they would veto anything that held Saddam to account," he said.

Though no one said so directly, Prime Minister Blair hinted that the measure might be pulled. He said the allies would act in the best interest of the United Nations, indicating they might forego a vote that would only deepen divisions in the world body.

From Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and the summit host, Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso there were pleas for international unity. Mr. Durao Barroso called the Azores meeting the last chance for a political solution.