U.S. Escalates Iraq Rhetoric

W By Karen DeYoung

wASHINGTON — President Bush Tuesday dismissed U.N. Security Council members who have said weapons inspectors should be given more time in Iraq, recalling that all of them, “including the French,” voted last November to impose “serious consequences” if Iraq did not disclose and dismantle all of its weapons of mass destruction programs.

“This business about, you know, more time — you know, how much time do we need to see clearly that he’s not disarming?” Bush said of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. “This looks like a rerun of a bad movie and I’m not interested in watching it.”

Bush’s testy remarks, made in a brief White House exchange with reporters, came as the administration escalated its campaign against Saddam in a clear indication that it has begun a final effort to persuade the worlds’ governments and public that military action against Iraq is both justifiable and necessary.

The administration plans to lay out the various elements of its case in speeches and presentations over the next several weeks. The effort began Tuesday with a speech by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who said that Saddam’s “regime has very little time left. … There is no sign, there is not one sign that the regime has any intent to comply” with United Nations demands.

On Thursday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz will deliver the same message in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Bush’s State of the Union speech next Tuesday will include a heavy emphasis on Iraq, although senior officials said the president is not likely to make his formal public argument that the time has come for disarming Iraq by force, and removing Saddam from power, until next month.

Senior aides are anxious that Bush not appear to pre-empt a separate calendar of events at the Security Council, where Hans Blix, the head of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Mohamed ElBaradei are due on Monday to make their first comprehensive report on Iraqi compliance with inspections that began two months ago. On Jan. 29, the day after Bush’s State of the Union speech, the council will convene to debate the report and decide what further steps to take.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the strongest U.S. ally on Iraq in the council, has scheduled a one-day visit with Bush at Camp David on Jan. 31. U.S. and diplomatic sources said that Blair was anxious that the two be seen to be having “a genuine consultation,” something that would be difficult if Bush had already declared the inspections over.

“The moment will come when the administration will want to make its case before the court of public opinion as well as the Security Council,” said one source. “They’ve only got one shot at it … and there’s a tradeoff” between having the strongest possible evidence to present and “waiting so long that the moment passes.”

Despite its apparent eagerness to move quickly toward military action, the administration is also constrained by still-incomplete military deployments to the Persian Gulf. Pentagon officials said Tuesday that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has ordered two more aircraft carriers to the region.

But neither Bush nor other officials indicated there was much likelihood the anticipated war would be postponed for long.

“I wish I were here to tell you that I am optimistic,” Armitage told a packed hall at the Institute of Peace in Washington. Listing the thousands of weapons of mass destruction Iraq was known to possess when the last round of U.N. inspections ended in 1998, Armitage said it was not the job of the new inspectors to find them, but Iraq’s responsibility to turn them over.

“If Iraq is disarming peacefully, showing active cooperation, then we can sit back and claim that our U.N. resolution is successful,” he said. “If he is not disarming, then we must have the guts to draw that conclusion and take another course. It does none of us any good to let Saddam think he can wear us down into business as usual.”

As Armitage spoke, aides in the back of the room passed out copies of a 25-page booklet entitled “Apparatus of Lies.” A compilation of what it called “the lies that Iraq has used to promote its propaganda and disinformation,” most dating from 1990 and 1991, it urged governments, the media and the public “in the weeks ahead … to consider the regime’s words, deeds and images in light of this brutal record of deceit” and not to be fooled by Saddam’s seeming compliance with inspectors.

The document was the first major product of the White House Office of Global Communications, which Bush officially signed into existence with an executive order Tuesday. Headed by veteran Bush administration and campaign media operative Tucker Eskew, the office will oversee and coordinate a daily foreign policy message for the government. The office’s goal, Eskew said, is to “try to anticipate upcoming events, plan for them, and use the tools in this unique institution of the White House to convey with the kind of clarity and convictions that are hallmarks of President Bush’s communications.”

Although Bush told reporters Tuesday that “I will let you know when the moment has come” to make a decision on Iraq, he said several times that “it’s clear to me now that he (Saddam) is not disarming.” Repeating that “time is running out,” Bush said that if the United Nations decides not to back a U.S.-led invasion, “we will lead a coalition of willing nations to disarm him.”

Bush expressed rising irritation that, so far, at least, few council members have agreed with his assessment that the Iraqi leader is “giving people the run around” and there is little point in continuing the inspection effort.

Leading the charge to give inspectors more time, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin on Monday accused Washington of overeagerness and impatience to confront Baghdad, and said that “we believe that nothing today justifies envisaging military action.” In a meeting of Security Council foreign ministers, Russia and China expressed similar displeasure at the U.S. move toward war.