- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

British officials said Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush agreed during their Washington meeting to give U.N. weapons inspectors as much as six more weeks to develop more international support for military action against Iraq, The Times of London reported Saturday.

Blair flew back to London Friday night shortly after holding a news conference with Bush during which neither man directly explained the outcome of their meeting.

According to the officials Bush reluctantly agreed to seek another U.N. resolution as long as it did not drag out the process beyond four to six weeks, the newspaper reported.

CNN also reported, from on board the plane carrying Blair back home, an agreement to allow the U.N. to debate a second resolution.

At the same time, the two chief U.N. weapons inspectors agreed to put off their response to Iraq's invitation to return in the next two weeks for more discussions, the report said.

In the White House news conference, Bush Friday indicated he was not adverse to efforts to gain a second resolution, but repeated that the United States wanted the matter settled in "weeks, not months."

"Should the United Nations decide to pass a second resolution, it would be welcomed if it is yet another signal that we're intent upon disarming Saddam Hussein. But (Resolution) 1441 gives us the authority to move without any second resolution."

Blair was not asked directly during the news conference with Bush about a second resolution but Bush characterized the prime minister's view and Blair did not take issue with the characterization.

"This is a matter of weeks, not months," Bush repeated. Any attempt to drag the process on for months will be resisted by the United States. And as I understand the prime minister — I'm loath to put words in his mouth — but he's also said weeks, not months," Bush said.

Apparently referring to a second U.N. resolution Blair said Iraq was not cooperating with inspectors and, "What is important is that the international community comes together again and makes it absolutely clear that this is unacceptable." The reason, he continued "why I believe that it will do that is precisely because in the original Resolution 1441, we made it clear that failure to disarm would lead to serious consequences."

Newsweek magazine reported Saturday that Secretary of State Colin Powell will present the U.N. Security Council with National Security Agency intercepts of Iraqi conversations that appear to talk about deceiving the U.N. inspectors.

The Times of London reported Saturday that Powell will also present satellite photographs of Iraqis hiding what appear to be mobile biological weapons laboratories.

The New York Times Saturday reported that Bush and Blair appeared divided over how hard to press the United Nations Security Council for a new resolution supporting military action.

A top U.N. arms inspector called Friday for more cooperation from Baghdad in exchange for talks. The International Atomic Energy Agency said its head, Mohammad ElBaradei, was considering the invitation from Iraq for more talks in Baghdad.

"He is considering it and consulting with Dr. (lead U.N. inspector Hans) Blix," Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the agency, told United Press International. "He would like to see positive signals from the Iraqis they were going to change their approach and address … points that have been raised recently."

Those points, she said, included the lack of private interviews with Iraqi scientists, Baghdad denying permission to surveillance by U-2 planes, and other issues.

Iraq's invitation Thursday urged Blix and ElBaradei to visit Baghdad before Feb. 14, when they are due to submit a second report to the world body, for more talks. Muhammad al-Duri, Iraq's representative to the United Nations, said the invitation was to discuss finding ways to resolve disagreements between the two sides.

The White House meeting with Bush came a day after Blair and Spanish leader Jose Maria Aznar, two of Washington's closest allies on the Iraq issue, threw their weight behind calls for the second resolution.

Resolution 1441, passed unanimously by the Security Council last November, mandates the inspector's presence in Baghdad, calls for "immediate, unimpeded, unconditional and unobstructed access" to Iraqi chemical and biological weapons storage sites and manufacturing facilities.

Powell will address the U.N. Security Council next Wednesday.

Iraq, however, said it believed there would be nothing new in Powell's evidence.

U.N. inspectors continued their search for proscribed material Friday and visited four sites, including the State Co. for Agricultural Supplies. Inspectors wore protective clothing as they searched the offices of the firm in Baghdad.


(With reporting by Krishnadev Calamur in Washington, Richard Tomkins at the White House and Ghassan al-Kadi in Baghdad.)

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