With a “Mount Everest” of evidence that Saddam Hussein’s defiance is continuing, the window for diplomacy on Iraq will be open for “weeks, not months,” the White House said Thursday.
The showdown with Saddam is at a “critical juncture,” Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters. Fleischer’s comments represent the administration’s first official word of a time-limit on efforts to end the standoff peacefully.
Fleischer said President Bush still hopes the Iraqi regime can be disarmed peacefully.
Administration officials have said repeatedly that time is running out for Saddam. “The president is using this window now to engage in very busy and active diplomacy,” Fleischer said. “This will take place in a period of weeks, not months.”
Fleischer asserted that “there’s already a Mount Everest of information” implicating Saddam even without new evidence.
Bush met Thursday with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a firm supporter of the United States’ hardline position toward Iraq.
“For the sake of peace, this issue must be resolved,” the president said after the meeting.
President Bush said Friday he would welcome a second U.N. resolution on Iraq but only if it led to the prompt disarming of Saddam Hussein. Pushing for a new resolution, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called confronting Iraq “a test of the international community.”
Both leaders dismissed Iraq’s offer to host U.N. weapons inspectors before their next interim report, with Bush calling the invitation a charade meant to “string the inspectors along.”
Showing little patience for Saddam or for allies trying to slow his pace toward war, Bush said, “Any attempt to drag this process out for months will be resisted by the United States.”
Though the leaders are largely in agreement on most Iraq issues, the news conference after their two-hour White House meeting revealed differences over diplomatic tactics and the extent of Saddam’s threat.
Bush, for example, accused Iraq of being linked to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network and said those ties “portend a danger for America and for Great Britain, anybody who loves freedom.” Blair did not make the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, though he said terrorist networks in general are tied to the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.