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WH: Saddam's not disarming

Administration stresses time running out for Iraq

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration on Monday said a report from U.N. weapons inspectors demonstrated that Saddam Hussein was not disarming and warned anew that time was running out for Iraq to cooperate.

"To this day, the Iraq regime continues to defy the will of the United Nations," Secretary of State Colin Powell said, adding that the Iraqi regime has responded to the U.N. demand for disarmament with "empty claims, empty declarations and empty gestures."

The administration made it clear that it was not optimistic that Saddam would cooperate, even in the wake of the U.N. report.

"Unfortunately, nothing we have heard today gives us hope that Iraq intends to fully comply," John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in New York.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer refused to put a time frame on how long the United States will give U.N. inspectors and said Bush will continue to consult with U.S. allies about the next step. But sources said Saddam has weeks, not months, to avert a possible war.

Said Fleischer: "The process is running out of time."

Fleischer called the report a "frightening reminder" of the threat posed by Saddam, accused of developing weapons of mass destruction.

On Capitol Hill, many lawmakers, mostly Republicans, said the U.N. report was proof that Iraq has been uncooperative with the weapons inspectors. In a strongly worded statement, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, called on the Security Council to act.

"War should be the last resort," McCain said. "However, failure to disarm Saddam would lead to catastrophic consequences for our national security."

The administration strategy, aides said, is to push the Security Council members to enforce their own resolution, while continuing to campaign for both international and domestic support.

As the administration continued to press its case against Iraq, Fleischer said the United States has evidence of contacts between Iraqi officials and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network "going back for quite a long time." Senior al Qaeda detainees captured in the war on terror have said Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in its chemical weapons development.

Democratic leaders, without comment specifically on the U.N. report, maintained the White House had to do a better job of making the case for military action against Iraq.

In a speech delivered after the U.N. presentation, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said the administration ought to reveal its evidence about Saddam's weapons.

"If we have proof of nuclear and biological weapons, why don't we show that proof to the world as President Kennedy did 40 years ago when he sent Adlai Stevenson to the United Nations to show the world U.S. photographs of offensive missiles in Cuba?" Daschle said in what was billed as a "prebuttal" to Tuesday's address.

But Fleischer compared the current debate on whether to give weapons inspectors more time to that of a decade ago, when some diplomats urged for sanctions against Iraq to pressure Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait instead of warfare.

"If the argument to give sanctions more time had been listened to, Saddam Hussein would still be sitting in Kuwait and likely in Saudi Arabia as well," Fleischer told reporters.

--CNN White House Correspondents Dana Bash and Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

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