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Delay or deception risks war, Bush warns Iraq

WASHINGTON—President Bush pointed Monday to a looming Sunday deadline for Iraq to detail its illicit weapons programs and warned that stalling tactics to delay United Nations inspections would signal that Saddam Hussein has decided to risk war.

"Any act of delay, deception or defiance will prove that Saddam Hussein has not adopted the path of compliance and has rejected the path of peace," Bush said at a Pentagon ceremony where he signed legislation authorizing $393 billion in military spending for fiscal 2003. "America will confront gathering dangers early, before our options become limited and desperate."

Meanwhile, U.N. weapons inspectors paid a six-hour visit Monday to the heavily guarded Karama missile development plant in Baghdad. A subsequent U.N. report said that some equipment that had been tagged by previous inspection teams was missing from the site. According to the report, Iraqi officials said some of the missing items had been transported to other sites and that some of it had been destroyed by U.S. air attacks.

Also Monday, Iraqi air defenses fired on U.S. and British warplanes for a second consecutive day as they patrolled the "no-fly" zone over northern Iraq, U.S. officials said. The planes retaliated. U.S. and British forces created "no-fly zones" following the 1991 Persian Gulf War to protect Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south from Iraqi aggression.

The United States maintains that Iraqi attacks on allied jets are a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution passed last month. That measure, passed unanimously by the 15-nation council, gave inspectors a mandate to search for weapons anywhere in Iraq at any time without any interference. The resolution presented Iraq with a "final opportunity" to comply with disarmament before it faces "serious consequences."

Bush used his comments on Iraq, his first since inspections resumed last week, to lay out criteria for deciding how to deal with future Iraqi defiance.

"In the inspections process, the United States will be making one judgment: Has Saddam Hussein changed his behavior of the last 11 years? Has he decided to cooperate willingly and comply completely, or has he not?" Bush said.

"So far the signs are not encouraging," he said, referring to Iraqi anti-aircraft attacks on allied planes and to Iraqi "letters filled with protests and falsehoods."

Bush said Iraq's weapons declaration, which is due on Sunday, "must be credible and complete—or the Iraqi dictator will have demonstrated to the world once again that he has chosen not to change his behavior."

In a separate speech to Air National Guard leaders in Denver, Vice President Dick Cheney contended that confronting Iraq is essential to winning the war on terror.

"There is also a grave danger that al-Qaida or other terrorists will join with outlaw regimes that have these weapons to attack their common enemy, the United States of America. That is why confronting the threat posed by Iraq is not a distraction from the war on terror. It is absolutely crucial to winning the war on terror. Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror," Cheney said, although he cited no hard evidence to back up those allegations, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by the White House.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, in London to meet with members of Iraqi opposition groups, said the only hope of "achieving the peaceful outcome is if we can confront the Iraqi regime with a credible threat of force behind our diplomacy."

If Iraq does not cooperate with weapons inspections and "inspectors are forced to go back to the old cat-and-mouse game the world saw so often before, then the effort to resolve this problem peacefully will have failed," Wolfowitz said in a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush has made no decisions on how he might proceed with Iraq, but "Saddam Hussein will have to figure out how long the United States intends to go along until we find out what Saddam Hussein is really doing.

"The president is skeptical that Saddam Hussein will comply and it's too soon to say. One week is not adequate time," Fleischer said.


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

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ