Background: More Time
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SPENCER MICHELS: Today’s U.N. Inspections of one of Saddam Hussein’s presidential compounds are part of an ongoing process that Hans Blix expects to last for months. The U.N. chief weapons inspector told the Associated Press that his Jan. 27 report to the U.N. Security Council will be an interim one.
HANX BLIX: Well, we are not the ones who have established the 27th of January as the end of history. But we were asked in that resolution to update the council. Update is not a final report, it’s an updating about what has happened and what have you learned in these two months, and that’s what we’re going to do. And we can see a lot of work ahead of us, beyond that date, if we are allowed to do so.
SPENCER MICHELS: Yesterday Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the inspectors need at least a few months. That tone was echoed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
KOFI ANNAN: I think the inspectors are just getting up to full speed. They are now quite operational and able to fly around and get their work done. And so I really don’t want to talk about war, nor is the council talking about war.
SPENCER MICHELS: Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain, Washington’s strongest ally, also downplayed the significance of the 27th.
TONY BLAIR: We should wait and see what the inspectors find. The 27tth of January is the first time they’ll make a full report; then I think things will be a little clearer.
SPENCER MICHELS: But the White House has sent different signals. In Sunday’s Washington Post, an unnamed senior government official said the 27th marks “the beginning of the final phase, quickly leading to decisive action.” The next day, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer suggested otherwise.
ARI FLEISCHER: The president has not put any type of artificial timetable on how long he believes is necessary for Saddam Hussein to prove to the world that he’s going to comply.
SPENCER MICHELS: For his part, President Bush yesterday indicated impatience.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Time is running out on Saddam Hussein. He must disarm. I’m sick and tired of games and deception. And that’s my view of timetables.
SPENCER MICHELS: Meanwhile, the U.S. military buildup has also accelerated. Over the weekend, the Pentagon ordered 62,000 additional troops to the Gulf, which means there will be some 150,000 forces in the region in the coming weeks. The British have also deployed several thousand active-duty and reserve soldiers to the region. At the Pentagon, Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, denied the buildup would force the timetable to war.
REPORTER: There are some so-called pundits or experts inside the beltway who are saying now that America has gone so far down the to war that it’s too late to turn back.
DONALD RUMSFELD: I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think the president has been determined that the Iraqi regime disarm. And how that is to happen, it could happen because the Iraqi regime decides to do that; it could happen because the Iraqi president leaves the country. It could happen in a variety of ways other than war.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Certainly from a military perspective there’s no point of no return. I mean, I think the secretary was talking in broad context. But in a limited military context, there is no point where we can’t adjust one way or the other, depending on what the president wants us to do.
SPENCER MICHELS: Rumsfeld said he has little confidence in Saddam Hussein’s compliance.
DONALD RUMSFELD: And he’s got a very effective denial and deception program. And if someone is sitting here thinking, “well, wouldn’t it be nice if somebody walked up and handed you a chemical or a biological weapon, or physical evidence that they’re within 15 minutes of having a nuclear weapon,” that would be wonderful. It isn’t going to happen.
SPENCER MICHELS: Back in Baghdad today, U.N. officials said that in additional to the presidential palace. They also searched a weapons depot and a private farm.