WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush said yesterday “the signs are not encouraging” that Saddam Hussein will cooperate with weapons inspectors and avoid a war threatened by the United States.
As a Sunday deadline neared, the president said he won’t tolerate “any act of delay, deception or defiance.”
Even as U.N. investigators reported progress in their first week of work, Bush said war may prove necessary. “The temporary peace of denial and looking away from danger would only be a prelude to broader war and greater horror,” he said.
“America will confront gathering dangers early before our options become limited and desperate.”
Weapons inspectors are carrying out a United Nations resolution ordering Saddam to rid Iraq of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons or face the prospect of war.
The resolution gives Iraq until Sunday to disclose its weapons of mass destruction.
Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Al-Douri, said the declaration could be ready as early as tomorrow. “There will be nothing surprising,” Al-Douri said. “We have repeated our position several times that we have nothing hidden.”
The White House disputed that contention again yesterday. Senior officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. intelligence has evidence of Saddam’s weapons programs and is willing to share it with U.N. inspectors to help rebut the Iraqi declaration.
The U.S. is flying Predator unmanned surveillance aircraft to look for signs of Iraq’s noncompliance with the inspections, said a defense official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The U.N. inspectors completed their first week of work yesterday by visiting alcoholic beverage plants and a factory that once made parts for now-banned missiles.
While inspectors said some equipment of interest was missing at the Karama ballistic design plant, they have reported no problems gaining access to suspect sites nor have they made public any findings of deadly weapons.
The lack of a confrontation has raised concerns in the White House that Saddam is winning the early public relations battle by creating an impression that he is complying with inspectors. Aides said those fears prompted the president and Vice President Dick Cheney to deliver separate speeches Monday to cast doubt on Saddam’s intentions.
“So far, the signs are not encouraging,” Bush said as he signed a bill giving the U.S. military its largest spending increase since the Reagan administration.
“A regime that fires upon American and British pilots is not taking the path of compliance. A regime that sends letters filled with protests and falsehoods is not taking the path of compliance,” Bush said.
He was referring to Iraqi letters to the U.N. protesting terms of the resolution.
In Denver, Cheney spoke ominously about the Sunday deadline. “This time deception will not be tolerated,” he told 1,500 Air National Guard leaders. “The demands of the world will be met, or action will be unavoidable.”
Answering critics of Bush’s Iraq policy, Cheney also said confronting Saddam is not a distraction from the broader war on terrorism.