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Bush Repeats Warning That 'Time is Running Out' for Iraq to Disarm - 2003-01-21

President Bush says it is clear Iraq is not disarming and is leaving the strong impression that a U.S.-led attack might be the only option left to ensure it does. This, despite the opinion of some U.N. Security Council members, especially France, as well as weapons inspectors themselves, that more time is needed, perhaps months more, before any decision is made to use force.

President Bush would not say whether he has now made up his mind that going to war against Iraq is the only way to ensure disarmament. But in some of his strongest comments on the matter yet, he left reporters Tuesday with the impression that the chances for any other outcome are fast slipping away.

"We will lead a coalition of willing nations to disarm him. Make no mistake about that, he will be disarmed," he said. "I will let you know when the moment has come."

Referring to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the president appeared to be responding to France's blunt warning Monday that the United States has yet to see sufficient evidence of Iraqi obstructions that would justify military action.

"Our friends have learned lessons from the past. Surely we have learned how this man deceives and delays. As many of my advisors said on TV this week, time is running out," he said.

But French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, echoing the views of fellow Security Council members Russia and China, says he sees no reason not to let U.N. weapons inspectors continue working, a wish that Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N.'s nuclear-monitoring agency, says he would like to see as well.

With Iraq now promising more cooperation, he and chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix left Baghdad saying documents the Iraqi government has provided so far fail to account for all of its alleged weapons of mass destruction. "I feel that the declaration does not answer a great many questions from the past which still remain open," he said.

Next week, he will present a crucial report detailing his findings to the Security Council, to be followed only a few days later by what could be a decisive meeting between President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. This, as both countries continue a massive military build up in the Persian Gulf in preparation for a possible invasion of Iraq, something Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage now suggests is all but inevitable. "Our other options are just about exhausted at this point," he said.

Casting further pessimism on hope that war can be avoided, he released a report detailing how Iraq has repeatedly lied to weapons inspectors. "This regime has very little time left to undo the legacy of 12 years," he said. "There is no sign, there is not one sign, that the regime has any intent to comply fully with the terms of [U.N.] Resolution 1441, just as it has failed to comply with any of the other 16 U.N. Security Council resolutions."

Still, Iraq's neighbors are holding out hope that war is not inevitable. Turkey is preparing to host a meeting of Arab foreign ministers later this week in an effort to find a peaceful solution to the Iraq situation perhaps by persuading Saddam Hussein to step down, something close advisors to the Iraqi leader have said he will never do.