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Two leaders review timetables for diplomacy, war
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, united against Iraq, said Friday that Saddam Hussein is not disarming and the world must hold him to account. "This is a test of the international community," Blair said.
Bush said that Secretary of State Colin Powell, when he presents evidence to the United Nations next week, "will make it clear Saddam Hussein is fooling the world -- trying to fool the world. We'll make clear Saddam Hussein is a menace to peace."
Blair and Bush, buffeted by critics at home and abroad, spoke at a news conference at the White House after reviewing possible timetables for diplomacy and war.
"This issue will come to a head in a matter of weeks, not months," Bush said.
With Britain's backing, the United States has threatened to use force to disarm Iraq if it does not give up its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs as required by a U.N. Security Council resolution passed in the fall.
"The judgment has to be at the present time that Saddam Hussein is not cooperating with the inspectors and is in breach with resolutions, and that's why time is running out," Blair said.
While Bush and Blair largely agree on Iraq, they have subtle differences over diplomatic tactics and the extent of Saddam's threat.
Blair made clear his preference for a new round of discussions at the United Nations.
"What is important is that the international community comes together again," he said.
Bush said, "Should the United Nations decide to pass a second resolution, it'd be welcome if it is yet another signal that we're intent upon disarming Saddam Hussein." But he added that last fall's U.N. resolution "gives us the authority to move without any second resolution."
Blair sidestepped a question about whether there is a link between Saddam and the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers.
Still, he said, "I've got no doubt at all, unless we deal with both threats they will come together in a deadly form."
Iraq, which maintains it has no banned weapons, warned Friday that the United States could try to plant evidence that the country had such illicit weapons. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri demanded that the United States present proof of Baghdad's banned weapons. Powell has promised to do so Wednesday at the United Nations.
Also Friday, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and three other top Democrats sent a letter to Bush requesting that Powell brief the Senate before he speaks to the United Nations. The letter was also signed by Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee; Joseph Biden of Delaware, senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on Armed Services.
The Bush-Blair meeting was part of what the White House says will be a busy, brief round of diplomacy aimed at building the case against Saddam.
Thus far, Bush's schedule is largely dedicated to leaders who support his views. He called Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic, on Friday and scheduled a meeting next week with Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller.
Elsewhere Friday, in the buildup to potential war:
--Turkey's top military and civilian leaders endorsed allowing foreign troops to be based in the country. The move could pave way for U.S. troops to use Turkey as a base against Iraq.
-- Coalition warplanes bombed an anti-aircraft artillery site in northern Iraq after Iraqi gunners opened fire. The skirmishes have become common.
-- U.S. aircraft dropped 36,000 leaflets over a southern Iraq city alerting citizens to radio messages that, among other things, urge a revolt against Saddam.
Blair has earmarked 35,000 troops for the Persian Gulf, by far the largest commitment outside the U.S. force.
Polls in Britain and the United States show a general unease about war with Iraq.
In his public remarks alongside Bush, Blair did not directly address whether he sought the president's commitment to go to the U.N. for a second resolution.
"The international community must come together and say this is unacceptable," he said.
Rain and fog made helicopter travel hazardous, forcing Bush and Blair to meet at the White House instead of the cozier confines of the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md.
Before the meeting, Powell and Vice President Dick Cheney set the stage with grim portrayals of Iraq under Saddam.
"He could decide secretly to provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists for their use against us," Cheney told a gathering of top Republicans.
Powell said, "This enemy is not an enemy you can deter. This is an enemy we must destroy."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)