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Rice: US Patience 'Wearing Thin' With Iraq - 2003-02-16

A top White House official says while the U.S. continues to seek a new U.N. resolution on Iraq, the window for diplomacy is about to close. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said calls for more time for weapons inspectors only lessens the pressure on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to comply with U.N. disarmament demands.

Condoleezza Rice says the United States continues to try to build support for another U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq. But she makes clear, U.S. patience is wearing thin. "We are in a diplomatic window here, but a diplomatic window that frankly, cannot last very much longer," Ms. Rice said.

Appearing on the NBC television program Meet the Press, she accused Iraq of stalling for time and trying to split the Security Council. She said Baghdad is using the uncertainty of the situation to its advantage.

"The uncertainty is unfair to states in the region. The uncertainty is unfair to the Iraqi people. Frankly, the uncertainty which the Iraqis are using to split the council, to buy more time is unfair to the reputation of the United Nations Security Council. This will have to come to an end pretty soon," Ms. Rice said.

The president's national security advisor was asked about calls for more time for weapons inspectors, and opposition among some long-time U.S. allies to the possible use of force to disarm Iraq.

The French and German governments have been the most outspoken, with French President Jacques Chirac saying recently there is "no justification" for war. Ms. Rice downplayed any long-term damage to trans-Atlantic relations, though she cautioned that Iraq might find comfort in the words coming from Paris and Berlin.

"I do believe that continuing to talk about more time and more time and more time is simply going to relieve pressure on the Iraqis to do what they must do," Ms. Rice said.

She noted the United States has not set any deadlines in its drive to rid Iraq of alleged weapons of mass destruction. She added, however, that it is time for the Security Council to show resolve. Ms. Rice was then asked if, given the stand taken by permanent council members France, Russia and China, a new resolution could pass.

"Well, we are prepared to work toward that end. We will see where we come out," she said.

Speaking on ABC's This Week program, the French Ambassador to Washington reaffirmed his country's stand on the need for further inspections. Jean-David Lavitte said the inspectors are producing results.

"My message today is that we should join forces to exert more pressure on Saddam Hussein to obtain more active cooperation," he said.

On the same program, Britain's Ambassador to the United States said the issue is not the inspections, it is Iraqi compliance. Christopher Meyer said Britain and the United States are working on another Security Council resolution, but would not confirm reports that it will be put before the council on Tuesday.