- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

U.N. officials in charge of weapons inspections in Iraq said yesterday they would need up to 10 more months to complete their work, as both the United States and Britain downplayed the imminence of an attack and said they had no timetable for the inspections.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, whose inspectors have been in Iraq since November, said the United Nations has provided timelines of "somewhere between six and 12 months" to complete inspections.
"We think we'll get the time we need since no one has explicitly said that they disagreed with our assessment of the time it would take," IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said in Vienna, Austria.
The White House agreed, saying there was "no timetable" by which arms inspectors must complete their search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
"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," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday.
"The president thinks it remains important for the inspectors to do their job and have time to do their job."
News reports have pegged Jan. 27 as a key date, when inspectors are scheduled to give a formal assessment of Iraqi compliance with U.N. disarmament demands. Bush officials said the deadline is just another benchmark set out by the U.N. Security Council in its resolution passed Nov. 8.
"This process is under way," Mr. Fleischer said. "That process included a series of dates that the inspectors would report back. We're not even through those dates yet. An important one is coming up, January 27th."
A Bush administration official said inspection delays are not a concern because U.S. armed forces are not fully in place. "There's a likelihood that nothing will happen until mid-March, at the earliest," the official said.
Part of the problem, the official said, is that Turkey has not agreed to allow the United States to use military bases there to deploy as many as 80,000 troops into northern Iraq.
Turkey and Syria yesterday said they support a peaceful resolution to the standoff between the United States and Iraq, their common neighbor.
"The two sides underlined the importance of resolving the problem through peaceful means within the framework of UN Security Council resolution 1441, without resorting to any military intervention," said a statement from the office of Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer after his talks with visiting Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa.
"The sides emphasized the importance of preserving Iraq's territorial integrity and political unity," the statement said.
Mr. Fleischer took issue with reports that the timetable for military intervention in Iraq was "slipping."
"I think, frankly, other than it's a slow news day, nothing really has changed about the timing in Iraq," Mr. Fleischer said.
Still, the massive buildup of troops in the Persian Gulf continues. Since Friday, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has signed two orders to send an additional 67,000 troops to the Gulf, a move that could give the U.S. military nearly 150,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in the region by the end of February.
Yesterday, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei had a different timeline from what the agency's spokesman used, saying U.N. arms inspectors would need "a few months" to determine whether Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction.
"We need to give inspection a chance to run its full course," Mr. ElBaradei told a press conference after talks with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.
The IAEA chief would not set a specific date for the conclusion of inspections, and said Jan. 27 was not a "cutoff" but merely a deadline for him and top U.N. inspector Hans Blix to deliver a "status report."
"I would like to make it clear in advance that our work will continue after that date," Mr. ElBaradei said. "I think now that the international community now understands that this process is going to take some time."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair refused yesterday to impose a time limit on the work of U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq but insisted Saddam would be disarmed by force if necessary.
Treading a tightrope between domestic opposition to a war against Iraq and a desire to keep pressure on Baghdad, Mr. Blair also predicted that the United Nations would authorize military action against Iraq if Saddam were proved to be in breach of its resolution on disarmament.
"Let the inspectors do their task. I don't think there is any point putting an arbitrary time scale on it," Mr. Blair told reporters at his Downing Street home in London.
"Last week was the first week that the inspectors were in there with their full complement. Some of these questions, you [can] put to me again in a few weeks' time."
The costs of keeping vast numbers of forces in Gulf nations such as Kuwait are relatively modest at the outset; service personnel get paid and fed wherever they are. But military analysts warn that costs would begin to soar once rotations start.
Lawrence Korb of the Council on Foreign Relations, an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, said rotation is necessary after a month to keep troops at peak efficiency.
The operation would become expensive and frustrating for the Pentagon once the force level nears 200,000, he said.
"Then you have to start calling up reserves and you'd have the problem of how long you keep those reserves," he said.
Meanwhile, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said in interview from Riyadh that he prefers diplomacy to military action, even if the Security Council declares Iraq in material breach of U.N. resolutions.
"At least give us a chance [to see] what is possible. If we don't succeed, those working for war can have their war as they please, which is going to be a catastrophe for the region," he said.
A Saudi government statement said: "The kingdom believes that opportunity should be given for dialogue even if the UN Security Council sanctions war. It is an Arab demand that enough time should be given for diplomacy to spare the region and the world human tragedies."

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