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Saddam will get `zero tolerance' from U.S. during weapons checks

WASHINGTON—The United States will have "zero tolerance" for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein if he fails to cooperate with tough new weapons inspections scheduled to start next week, Bush administration officials said Sunday.

Saddam has until Friday to accept the U.N. Security Council's resolution on Iraq's disarmament and until Dec. 8 to give a full account of Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missile programs. The Security Council plans to meet again to decide what action to take if Iraq fails to comply with the resolution.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell, appearing on television news talk shows Sunday, said the pressure was on Saddam to adhere strictly to the resolution in order to avoid a war.

The resolution passed by the 15-member Security Council on Friday gives Saddam one last opportunity to comply with U.N. demands that he submit to renewed inspections. The resolution declared that Saddam has been in "material breach" of previous international demands to disarm since the end of the 1991 Gulf War.

The action by the world body sets into motion what appears to be the end game for the Iraqi leader. Saddam deceived and stalled international monitors for years before they finally left the country in frustration in 1998.

A new advance team of international inspectors plans to arrive in Iraq next Monday.

"This time no one is going to have any tolerance for the kind of games of cat and mouse that Saddam has played in the past, for these games: `We don't understand it,' `Maybe it's just this term, maybe it's just that term.' There should be zero tolerance of that," Rice said on ABC's "This Week."

Rice said it was up to Saddam to cooperate by leading inspectors to weapons facilities and providing access to Iraqis who know about the weapons programs.

"The inspectors are not going to go hunting and pecking all through a country the size of France, trying to prove that Saddam Hussein does or does not have weapons of mass destruction. It's up to him to allow this to take place."

Powell repeated the Bush administration's assertion that the resolution does not preclude the United States from taking action on its own, even without explicit council approval.

"I can assure you that if he doesn't comply this time, we'll ask the U.N. to give authorization for all necessary means, and if the U.N. is not willing to do that, the United States, with like-minded nations, will go and disarm him forcefully," Powell said, speaking on CNN's "Late Edition."

"We believe we ought to approach this with a zero-tolerance attitude because we have been down this road before," Powell said.

Iraqi state television reported Sunday that Saddam ordered the Iraqi parliament to convene to discuss the U.N. resolution and decide whether the country will accept it.

Rice dismissed the idea of Saddam seeking advice from the parliament as "ludicrous" and a "ploy."

"Saddam Hussein is an absolute dictator and a tyrant," she said. "And the idea that some he expects the Iraqi parliament to debate this—they have never debated anything else."

Arab ministers meeting in Cairo said Sunday that Saddam had accepted the resolution and would allow inspectors back into the country. The ministers welcomed the U.N. resolution as an opportunity for a peaceful settlement of the crisis.

But they insisted that Arab experts be included on U.N. inspections teams and that the United States adhere to pledges that it gave Syria not to use the resolution as a pretext for a military invasion, Egypt's Middle Eastern News Agency reported.

Saddam has insisted in the past that all of his weapons programs have been dismantled. But intelligence experts believe that Saddam still possesses vast stocks of chemical and biological weapons, including nerve and mustard gas, anthrax and ricin.

Since the late 1990s, Iraq has accelerated its attempts to develop a nuclear weapon and has actively sought to purchase uranium abroad. According to an assessment by the British government, Iraq could produce a bomb within one or two years if it obtained fissile material from foreign sources.


(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.