White House rejects lengthy inspections process
IAEA withdraws hint that inspectors judge Iraq 'satisfactory'
WASHINGTON -- The White House has not set a cutoff date for U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq, but the United States will not tolerate inspections that continue for months on end, senior administration officials said Friday.
White House officials dismissed reports that a lengthy inspections period might be allowed in a bid to win support from more U.S. allies for military action against Iraq. However, a senior administration official said the United States will let the inspections continue as it consults with allies and has not set a timetable for ending them.
Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix is to present to the Security Council an interim report Monday on the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission's (UNMOVIC) first 60 days of inspections.
A spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would generally get good grades for his cooperation with their inspectors -- a statement that the agency quickly denounced as "off-the-cuff" remarks.
"The IAEA stresses that its role is to verify the nuclear disarmament of Iraq and to provide factual information to the council. Its report to the Security Council is still being finalized and will be presented on Monday," the agency said.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday that Saddam is still not cooperating with U.N. arms inspectors, and that his lack of cooperation indicates he is hiding something.
Even so, Fleischer said, war is still "a last resort," though "time is running out."
The consideration of extending the inspections comes in response to criticism from European allies and Russia, the U.S. administration official is quoted as saying.
Iraq maintains it is complying with U.N. resolutions and that it has no weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, nuclear and biological.
In other developments:
• President Bush will say the United States is preparing for war in his State of the Union address Tuesday but won't go so far as to declare war on Iraq, White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett said Friday. "He understands and sees this as a real opportunity to talk about that fact that we are a nation preparing for a potential war," Bartlett told reporters. (Full story)
• Saddam's son Uday said that if U.S. troops invade his country, they will face something that will make the September 11, 2001 terror attacks "look like a picnic." But he also said he believes that the United States and Iraq will end up negotiating because the United States respects strength and Iraq is the most stable regime in the region. (Full story)
• FBI agents are trying to find Iraqi nationals in the United States -- legally or illegally, the officials said. Those located have been interviewed to determine whether they present any danger or have any helpful information, such as possible terror plans or information about Iraq's military capabilities. FBI officials said they are concerned that cells might have been set in place after the 1991 Gulf War, but added they have found no evidence of any.
• The U.S. State Department told embassies Friday to alert U.S. citizens living overseas to be prepared for possible evacuation, the department said. About 4 million Americans live overseas, and thousands more are traveling outside the country any given day. (Full story)
• Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council -- the country's highest lawmaking body -- issued new laws calling for the death penalty for anyone convicted of armed robbery during wartime and 10 to 15 years in prison for falsifying military papers.
• Senior Pentagon officials said the U.S. military is prepared to seize Iraq's oil fields to prevent Saddam from destroying his country's oil industry as he tried to do to Kuwait's oil fields when his troops were driven out of that country in 1991. A top Bush officials said this week that Iraq's oil would be held in a trust to benefit the Iraqi people if U.S. forces occupy the country after a war. (Full story)
• Operation Southern Watch aircraft dropped 360,000 leaflets over communications facilities in southern Iraq on Friday. The leaflets urged Iraqis to tune to radio frequencies on which coalition forces are broadcasting. It was the seventh drop over southern Iraq this year.