A White House spokesman said Friday that Iraq's refusal to allow the unconditional return of U.N. arms inspectors was evidence that Baghdad had something to hide.
"Obviously they have something to hide," spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters returning to Washington with President Bush after meetings at the United Nations.
Fleischer made the comments after Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz rejected the unconditional return of inspectors as demanded by Washington, saying the move would not avert U.S. military designs on Baghdad.
"We do not accept Bush's conditions," Aziz said in an interview in Baghdad that was broadcast Friday.
"The unconditional return of the inspectors will not solve the problem," Aziz said in the interview with the Saudi-owned MBC television network. The interview was conducted Thursday.
"We hope it (the attack) is not inevitable, but we are preparing for the worst scenario," Aziz said in his interview. "We don't want malice, and if there is a reasonable way that will prevent the malice, we will deal with it."
Late Thursday, Aziz told reporters in Baghdad that "Bush's speech (to the United Nations) was full of lies and fabrications."
Earlier Friday Mr. Bush expressed doubt that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would meet U.S. disarmament demands, and called on the United Nations to act on Iraq in days or weeks.
Fleischer said the president's comments were not intended to mean that war was inevitable. "The president wants to send the U.N. a helpful message that he wants them to be relevant, he wants them to come out with something strong and concrete around which the world can rally," Fleischer said.
"I am highly doubtful that he'll meet our demands," Mr. Bush said. "I hope he does, but I'm highly doubtful. The reason I'm doubtful is he's had 11 years to meet the demands, and for 11 long years he has basically told the United Nations and the world he doesn't care."
But, as CBS Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts reports, there is some concern at the White House that President Bush went a bit too far in those remarks. The President's aides have been making every effort to beat back Democratic charges that there is a political component to all this saber-rattling - and worry that Mr. Bush just suggested there is.
While aides contend military action might still be avoided, some members of Congress say Americans need to be prepared for war.
Senator John McCain says, "Anytime we decide to spend American blood and treasure it's a tough decision. But I believe that inevitably that Saddam Hussein will have to be removed."
As Powell finished talks with the permanent members of the U.N. Security council, the White House expressed confidence it would get agreement on a tough resolution quickly - adding it doesn't want the U.N. "dilly-dally or pussyfoot and let Saddam delay his way out."
Mr. Bush made clear he wanted quick action by the U.N. on a tough new resolution requiring Iraq to disarm.
"We expect quick resolution to the issue," he said.
Mr. Bush said the United States would insist the resolution include a tight deadline for Iraqi compliance.
"There will be deadlines within the resolution," he said. "We're talking days and weeks, not months and years."
After talks Friday between key foreign leaders and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to move towards putting together a U.N. resolution that calls on Iraq to submit to weapons inspections or risk grave consequences, the European Union's foreign policy chief said a resolution on Iraq was expected within weeks.
"I wouldn't say months, but weeks," Javier Solana said when asked about the timing of a resolution, which would likely demand that Saddam Hussein allow the return of weapons inspectors.
Asked whether the 15-member EU would support military action in Iraq, Solana said: "We'll face the question when it comes."
Powell said he was "very pleased with the discussion," and pleased with reaction so far to Mr. Bush's speech on Iraq.
Mr. Bush Friday also made clear his annoyance at Congressional Democrats who say they want to wait until after the UN acts before enacting a resolution authorizing possible military action against Iraq.
"Democrats waiting for the U.N. to act?" he asked with a chuckle. "If I were running for office, I'm not sure how I'd explain to the American people -- say, vote for me, and, oh, by the way, on a matter of national security, I think I'm going to wait for somebody else to act."
Mr. Bush added, "It seems like to me that if you're representing the United States you ought to be making a decision on what's best for the United States."
Democratic leaders said the administration must provide lawmakers with more information on the threats posed by Saddam and U.S. plans for military strikes to remove the Iraqi president. They say that must take place before Congress considers a resolution in support of military action.
Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Friday, "This is very serious business. Let's slow it down a bit."
"The president is doing this the right way," Biden said on CBS News' "The Early Show." But the Delaware Democrat also said "this should be something done in a very deliberate manner. We should not try to rush history here."
Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, had said he hasn't yet seen enough evidence to justify going to war against Saddam.
Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney said he believes that Daschle wants to wait until the U.N. acts before voting in Congress.
"We think that would be a mistake. We really think this needs to be addressed by the Congress of the United States, and it has an obligation to focus on this," he said.
"It shouldn't be conditioned on what the United Nations does or doesn't," Cheney said on "The Rush Limbaugh Show."
Only Britain stands firmly with the United States in its hard-line approach to Saddam. The three other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – Russia, China and France – have the power to veto and torpedo a resolution.
"We have to work on resolutions that hold Iraq to account. They can't be resolutions of the kind we've seen in the past," Powell said Friday morning on CBS News' "The Early Show". "These have to be resolutions or a resolution that has a deadline to it and that has firm standards to it and that will be tough, very tough."
Russia Friday sent mixed signals on military action against Iraq.
Moscow's foreign minister attended a meeting of the European Union on Iraq and was "hostile to any military action," a European diplomat said.
But at the same time, Igor Ivanov was receptive to a resolution demanding Iraq allow U.N. inspectors to return but did not link it to any use of force, participants in the meeting said.
Russia, Iraq's closest ally on the 15-member EU council "is not going to give anything away before it has to," one Western European envoy said. Privately, however, Moscow was said to be more conciliatory in talks with American officials.
Egypt's president Friday announced that he backed President Bush's demand that Iraq disarm, urging Baghdad to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions.
"I welcome the door the United States opened for the United Nations, especially the Security Council, to play a pivotal role" in resolving the Iraqi issue, Hosni Mubarak said in an interview carried Friday by Egypt's semiofficial Middle East News Agency.
Arab leaders have voiced unanimous opposition to a U.S. strike on Iraq, fearing another Mideast conflict on top of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis would destabilize the region further and hamper the U.S.-led war on terrorism. They also have pleaded with Iraq to allow the return of weapons inspectors.
Mubarak's support for Bush's speech was a sign that some Arabs may be less opposed to action being taken against Iraq, provided it's done under a U.N. mandate.
In his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday, Mr. Bush raised the specter of war, telling skeptical world leaders they must confront the "grave and gathering danger" of Saddam's Iraq - or stand aside as the United States acts. Hesitant allies asked Mr. Bush not to go it alone.
Some delegates have indicated they hope an ultimatum by the U.N. would force Iraq to readmit weapons inspectors. The inspectors, responsible for accounting for Iraq's nuclear, chemical, biological and ballistic weapons, were pulled out of Iraq in December 1998 on the eve of a U.S.-British bombing raid, and have not been allowed to return.
"It's clear for me that the United Nations has to act," said Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, whose country has a seat on the Security Council. "The question is which way to act. I hope for a peaceful outcome of this."
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