President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Friday that Saddam Hussein is not disarming and the world must hold him to account. "This is a test of the international community," Blair said.
Mr. Bush said that Secretary of State Colin Powell, when he presents evidence to the United Nations next week, "will make it clear Saddam Hussein is fooling the world trying to fool the world. We'll make clear Saddam Hussein is a menace to peace."
The two leaders, buffeted by critics at home and abroad, spoke at a news conference at the White House after reviewing possible timetables for diplomacy and war.
With Britain's backing, the United States has threatened to use force to disarm Iraq if it does not give up its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs as required by a U.N. Security Council resolution passed in the fall.
"The judgment has to be at the present time that Saddam Hussein is not cooperating with the inspectors and is in breach with resolutions and that's why time is running out," Blair said.
However, while no foreign leader is more supportive of the president's approach to Iraq than Blair, the two leaders are not in lockstep. Blair believes the allies should obtain another U.N. resolution specifically authorizing military action against Iraq, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.
"What is important is that the international community comes together again," Blair said.
The White House Friday reaffirmed its view that a second U.N. resolution authorizing military action against Iraq would be "desirable," but not "mandatory."
Blair sidestepped a question about whether there is a link between Saddam and the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers.
"I've got no doubt at all, unless we deal with both threats they will come together in a deadly form," he said.
On the eve of the critical Blair summit, Bush administration officials cautioned there was no firm deadline for when talks with allies would cease and the president would make a decision on war.
The administration's timetable of "weeks, not months" – uttered by Mr. Bush and administration officials throughout the day – was given some specificity.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the administration envisions a diplomatic window of "a couple of weeks" – which would coincide with a scheduled Feb. 14 report from weapons inspectors.
Several senior administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that if Saddam has not disarmed and diplomacy has run its course when the report is filed, Mr. Bush is unlikely to condone more weapons inspections.
The Iraqis apparently also sense that Valentine's Day is a crucial date. They have invited the top weapons inspectors to Baghdad for talks on resolving differences before the inspectors' next report.
Iraq, which maintains it has no banned weapons, warned Friday that the United States could try to plant evidence that the country had such illicit weapons. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri demanded that the United States present proof of Baghdad's banned weapons. Powell has promised to do so Wednesday at the United Nations.
Meanwhile, a top U.N. inspector said Friday he was unwilling to accept Iraq's invitation for another visit unless Baghdad removes major obstacles now hampering the search for banned weaponry.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. nuclear agency, said that he and chief inspector Hans Blix wanted to see what the Iraqis were offering before accepting the Iraqi invitation for further talks.
The Bush-Blair meeting was part of what the White House says will be a busy, brief round of diplomacy aimed at building the case against Saddam.
Mr. Bush met Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on Thursday. He spoke Friday to Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic, and meets next week with Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller and Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the king of Bahrain.
Also Friday, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and three other top Democrats sent a letter to Mr. Bush requesting that Powell brief the Senate before he speaks to the United Nations. The letter was also signed by Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee; Joseph Biden of Delaware, senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on Armed Services.
A vital part of the administration's drive for diplomatic backing will be the presentation Secretary Powell makes to the Security Council next week, in which he is supposed to present evidence of Iraqi transgressions.
Officials have said Powell will offer no "smoking gun," but will have circumstantial evidence to make a convincing case that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction.
The United States may reveal evidence of mobile weapons labs and efforts to sanitize inspection sites before weapons monitors arrive.
Powell may also suggest a link between Baghdad and al Qaeda.
Elsewhere Friday, in the buildup to potential war: