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White House Says UN Iraq Inspectors Are Not Under Timetable to Finish Work - 2003-01-13

As the United States continues to build up its forces for possible action against Iraq, U.N. weapons inspectors indicate they may need several months more and perhaps as much as a year to complete their work in Iraq. The initial White House response is that there is no timetable for the inspections.

The head of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency says it will take months to finish the inspections.

Mohammed ElBaradei says the timing is largely up to Iraq. "How long would it take us depends on the cooperation we get from Iraq in terms of documents, in terms of interviews with Iraqi scientists, in terms of physical evidence that has been destroyed," he said.

When asked about the comments, White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer seemed to watch his words carefully. He said President Bush feels it is important for the inspectors to do their job and investigate Iraq's claim that it has no weapons of mass destruction.

"The inspectors need to be in Iraq to do the job that the world has asked them to do and they are in the middle of their work," he said.

He repeated that the president has not set his own deadline for a decision on military action to disarm Iraq or a timeframe for diplomacy and inspections to yield results.

"The president has not put any type of artificial timetable on how long he believes is necessary for Saddam Hussein to prove to the world that he is going to comply," he said.

The president has said on numerous occasions that if the Iraqi leader refuses to comply peacefully with international disarmament demands, Iraq will be disarmed by force.

Mr. Bush has emphasized that he sees military action as a last resort. But the White House has noted that diplomacy has not worked in the past with Iraq, and a build up of U.S. forces in the Gulf region is now well underway.