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 Tuesday, 14 January, 2003, 20:43 GMT
'Time running out' for Iraq
US soldiers on exercise in Kuwait
The UN wants any invasion plans put on hold
US President George Bush has warned that "time is running out" for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to surrender the weapons of mass destruction which the US insists he owns.

"So far I haven't seen any evidence that he has disarmed," said Mr Bush. "I'm sick and tired of games and deception."

UN inspectors in Iraq
The EU says the UN inspectors need more time
In stark contrast, the European Union warned on Tuesday against an early intervention in Iraq, saying the United Nations weapons inspectors needed more time on the ground.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan agreed, saying the inspectors were "just getting up to speed", and should be allowed to continue their mission.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency which is providing the nuclear inspectors, said more co-operation was needed from Iraq.

"We need more information, we still need more interviews with Iraqis. We would like to see physical evidence of destruction of weapons of mass destruction," he told the Reuters news agency.

President Bush is also facing pressure closer to home. A new US poll suggests his approval rating has plummeted to its lowest level since the 11 September attacks.

His rating, which peaked at 90%, is now just 58% - a drop which the BBC's Washington correspondent Nick Bryant says can be blamed at least partly on a sluggish economy.

Voters seem unhappy the president has focused so much attention on Iraq at a time when most people are thinking about how much money they have in their pockets, our correspondent says.

Maintaining the pressure

The US president appears determined to keep up the pressure on Iraq, vowing on Tuesday to lead a "coalition of the willing" to disarm Baghdad by force if necessary.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Saddam Hussein could "not string the world along forever".

Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix
Blix: worried by military build-up
Mr Annan acknowledged that US diplomatic and military pressure on Iraq had been effective in helping to force it to comply with the UN.

"Without that pressure I don't think the inspectors would have been back in Iraq today," he said.

He also said he was still optimistic that, if the pressure could be maintained on the Iraqi leadership, then the country could be disarmed peacefully.

But he also said the UN was "extremely worried about the humanitarian consequences" of military action in Iraq, which "could be quite substantial and negative," notably in the number of refugees it would cause.

'More time needed'

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said if chief weapons inspector Hans Blix wanted more time to continue his work, he should be allowed it.

He also said a second UN resolution may be necessary before military action was authorised, a view echoed by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

16 Jan - Chief UN inspector Hans Blix briefs EU
19 Jan - Blix meets top Iraqi officials in Baghdad
27 Jan - First full report on inspections presented to UN
29 Jan - UN discusses report
Mid-Feb - Estimated 150,000 US troops in Gulf
15 Feb - Anti-war protests across Europe
End of March - Blix submits "key remaining disarmament tasks"
Mr Solana was speaking on Tuesday, a day after chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix expressed concern that his work might be interrupted by war, with thousands of United States and British troops deploying in the Gulf.

Mr Blix is due to submit his first report to the Security Council on 27 January - a deadline which could be a possible trigger for a US-led war.

"I don't think 27 January is the end. It is an important date but Blix has another date in March," said Mr Solana.

President Bush and his main European ally - UK Prime Minister Tony Blair - insist they have no set timetable for war.

But the White House also says 27 January remains important - even though it is not clear what might provoke military action short of a showdown or major discovery of banned weapons.

  President George W Bush
"Time is running out"
  The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
"War has suddenly started to feel very close"

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See also:

14 Jan 03 | Middle East
14 Jan 03 | Americas
14 Jan 03 | Middle East
13 Jan 03 | Middle East
13 Jan 03 | Middle East
13 Jan 03 | Middle East
12 Jan 03 | Europe
09 Jan 03 | Middle East
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