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At The White House: February 21

Apparently unpersuaded by the negotiations in Baghdad, the president summoned his closest national security advisors to the White House yet again Saturday - the second time in less than 24 hours - for fine tuning plans for military action against Iraq.

After the 90-minute meeting, aides to the president said a "timeline" for responding to last minute diplomatic initiatives was discussed, but made it clear they see no sign Saddam Hussein is backing down.

"There continue to be provocative statements issued from Baghdad and no indication of a complete willingness to resolve this in a peaceful fashion - although obviously discussions are underway," said White House Spokesman Mike McCurry.

Meanwhile more ground troops said their goodbyes and moved out Saturday from Fort Benning, Georgia enroute to the Persian Gulf theater. The air units that would make the actual strikes are already in place and the realization that a sustained air war may be only days away now is drawing criticism from several quarters.

"What's wrong with the strategy of bombing only is that it has no possible resolution of this problem," said former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle. "The only resolution is to remove Saddam Hussein from power."

And the question over and over from capitol hill is: What happens if the air attack doesn't work?

"In due course if we do not have a strategic plan that lasts more than an initial group of strikes, we are very likely to run into problems," said Senator Richard Lugar.

The time for critics to have any impact on White House strategy, however, appears to be growing very short. The main hope for averting what appears to be shaping up as a brief but intense air war now rests with the U.N. Secretary General, and the White House Saturday gave no sign they think he's made any significant progress.

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