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U.S. Pushes For A Deadline On Iraq

U.S. war planners and diplomats were digging in Wednesday, trying to gain traction for the slipping timetable for a showdown with Saddam Hussein. Most of all, they want the United Nations Security Council to set a hard deadline for Iraqi disarmament.

The U.S. and Turkey, meanwhile, failed to agree on an aid package to induce the Turks to let American ground troops deploy on the Iraqi border. At the same time, NATO approved the deployment of defensive weapons, including Patriot missiles, to Turkey.

And in Baghdad, Saddam told a Russian delegation he does not want war, but won't accept peace "at any price."

The White House said Wednesday it will offer the Security Council a draft war resolution, including a deadline, this week or next.

Although previously declining to discuss the timing of such a resolution, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Wednesday: "The president intends to work with our friends and allies to offer a resolution either this week or next at the United Nations Security Council."

"And the president has made repeatedly clear that the preferable outcome is for the United Nations to act," Fleischer added. Earlier, he said, "the president is committed to moving forward."

Mr. Bush discussed Iraq and the war on terrorism Wednesday morning with the emir of Qatar and Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Fleischer said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday that countries like France that oppose swift military action against Iraq are afraid of upholding their responsibility to disarm Baghdad by force.

Powell's comments, in an interview broadcast on France-Inter radio and translated into French, were clearly directed at French President Jacques Chirac, who believes that U.N. weapons inspectors should be given more time and muscle to complete their job.

"It is not a satisfactory solution to continue inspections indefinitely because certain countries are afraid of upholding their responsibility to impose the will of the international community," Powell said.

But the reluctance of France and other countries to back war is not the only obstacle facing the Bush administration.

Turkey and the United States failed again Wednesday to agree on the size of an economic aid package that would open the way for Turkey's parliament to approve the deployment of tens of thousands of U.S. combat soldiers there.

Turkey has delayed a vote on the troops, saying a multibillion-dollar aid package must first be approved that would compensate Ankara for any losses during a war with Iraq.

Diplomats say the Turks want $10 billion in grants, and $20 billion in loan guarantees.

Fleischer said the United States has made its final offer.

"I think either an agreement will be reached, or no agreement will be reached," he said. "There comes a moment when plans must be made, decisions must be made, and cannot stretch on indefinitely."

A total of 43 cargo ships carrying the U.S. Army 4th Infantry's equipment are now steaming toward Turkish ports. With each passing day the backup of vessels waiting to unload grows, and the Pentagon's war schedule slips, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin.

Administration officials say these deployment delays coming on top of all the political and diplomatic opposition the Bush administration has encountered are pushing the possible start date of a war further and further into March.

The Pentagon is trying to stick to a deployment schedule that would have the military ready to go to war in early March. On Wednesday, for instance, the Roosevelt carrier battle group arrived on station in the eastern Mediterranean, bringing to four the number of carriers in range of Iraq. But unless it is resolved within the next 48 hours, the impasse with Turkey could throw a major glitch into the battle plan and force all those ships loaded with the 4th Infantry's equipment to head south through the Suez Canal and unload in Kuwait.

The American battle plan has always called for a rolling start in which the invasion began while many of the follow on forces were still en route from the U.S. and Europe. Now it appears as if the start date is rolling as well – rolling further away.

Dozens of countries have lined up to object to war with Iraq and to declare they detected willingness by Saddam to cooperate with weapons inspectors.

"The inspection process in Iraq is working and Iraq is showing clear signs of cooperating more proactively with the inspectors," South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo said.

Several Security Council countries, including Mexico and Chile, were reiterating privately that they would abstain in a vote on the resolution unless the United States and Britain found a way to ease tensions with France, Russia and China – the three other permanent members of the council who want continued weapons inspections as a means to prevent war now.

In a positive development for the White House, NATO approved the urgent deployment of AWACS radar aircraft, Patriot missile systems and chemical-biological response units to Turkey, making good on the plan approved by the alliance's defense committee – which excludes France – over the weekend.

Finally, in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein said Wednesday that Iraq doesn't want war with the United States, but peace cannot be kept at the expense of "our independence, our dignity" and freedom.

Speaking to a visiting delegation of Russian lawmakers, including Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, the Iraqi president said that if the United States carries out its threat to attack, Iraq will"`triumph over it, God willing."

"Iraq doesn't want war," Saddam said. But he added that peace "at any cost" was unacceptable. "We will not relinquish our independence, our dignity and our right to live and act freely."

In other developments:

  • Britain is telling its citizens in Iraq they should leave the country immediately. Britain's Foreign Office is also warning travelers against trips to Iraq, citing Saddam Hussein's use of "human shields" in the 1991 Gulf War.
  • The New York Times says U.S. officials believe the next report by chief inspector Hans Blix, coming on March 1, could be unfavorable to Iraq, and bolster a resolution's chances for approval.
  • Blix's inspectors hunted for banned Iraqi missiles on Wednesday, visiting at least three sites involved in making rockets and their components. There were indications Iraq is still having trouble setting up private, tape-recorded interviews with scientists. Only three of the 30 invited scientists have agreed to them.
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