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Bush Focuses on Disarmament, Disappointed By Iraq’s Efforts

By Maura Reynolds
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

President Bush disparaged Iraq’s efforts to comply with new U.N. disarmament demands as “not encouraging,” suggesting Monday that Saddam Hussein will fail to meet terms for a key report due this weekend -- which would move the United States closer to war.

In the last five days, Saddam has allowed U.N. weapons inspectors access to suspicious facilities. But Bush sought to draw attention away from the inspections, saying that disarmament rather than the inspections is the goal of the U.N. resolution passed last month.

“The inspectors are not in Iraq to play hide and seek with Mr. Saddam Hussein,” Bush said in remarks at the Pentagon. “Inspectors do not have the duty or the ability to uncover terrible weapons hidden in a vast country. The responsibility of inspectors is simply to confirm the evidence of voluntary and total disarmament.”

Under the U.N. resolution, Iraq has until Sunday to provide a full account of any programs to manufacture nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

Bush’s remarks appeared intended to intensify pressure on the Iraqis to comply with the resolution by the deadline. The president also laid out strict parameters for compliance.

“In the inspections process, the United States will be making one judgment: Has Saddam Hussein changed his behavior of the last 11 years? Has he decided to cooperate willingly and comply completely, or has he not?” Bush said. “So far, the signs are not encouraging.‘

To press his point, Bush spoke for the first time of recent Iraqi actions he considered provocative -- continued firing at U.S. and British planes in Iraq’s “no-fly” zones and a bombastic, anti-American letter Iraq sent to the United Nations in which it accepted the terms of the organization’s resolution.

“A regime that fires upon American and British pilots is not taking the path of compliance. A regime that sends letters filled with protests and falsehoods is not taking the path of compliance,” the president said.

Bush added: “Any act of delay, deception, or defiance will prove that Saddam Hussein has not adopted the path of compliance and has rejected the path of peace.”

The president did not spell out what actions he intends to take if Iraq fails to meet terms of the declaration due Sunday. But he reiterated in strong language that at some point, the United States is prepared to respond with force.