Camp David, Md. President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Saturday the world must act against Saddam Hussein, arguing that the Iraqi leader had defied the United Nations and reneged on promises to destroy weapons of mass destruction.
"We owe it to future generations to deal with this problem," Bush said as he greeted Blair at Camp David for a hasty brainstorming session on Iraq.
"The policy of inaction is not a policy we can responsibly subscribe to," Blair said as he joined Bush in trying to rally reluctant allies to deal with Saddam, perhaps by military force.
"A lot of people understand that this man has defied every U.N. resolution. Sixteen U.N. resolutions he's ignored," Bush said.
The meeting came five days before Bush addresses the United Nations. The president is expected to challenge the international community to take quick, tough action to disarm Saddam, saying that without allied help the United States will be obligated to act on its own to remove Saddam, according to advisers involved in writing the speech.
Bush will tell the U.N. there is no time to waste; one early draft refers to Iraq as a "ticking time bomb."
Senior Bush advisers acknowledge that Bush is setting the stage for a confrontation with Saddam, with the U.N. speech a last-ditch attempt to build an international coalition. The president assumes the showdown eventually will lead to military action, aides said. Key allies including France, Germany and Russia oppose the use of force against Iraq.
Bush said U.N. weapons inspectors, before they were denied access to Iraq in 1998, concluded that Saddam was "six months away from developing a weapon." He also cited satellite photos released by a U.N. agency Friday that show unexplained construction at Iraq sites that weapons inspectors once visited to search for evidence Saddam was trying to develop nuclear arms.
"I don't know what more evidence we need," Bush said.
Still, more information will be presented as the president continues his effort to rally support at home and overseas for his views on Saddam, a senior White House official said Saturday. The official stressed the administration's view that Saddam's weapons capabilities have been consistently underestimated in the past.
Dressed casually and preceded by a military escort in formal dress, Bush and first lady Laura Bush welcomed Blair as he got off a helicopter to a brilliant late-summer afternoon at the secluded presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin mountains. After less than four hours of one-on-one talks, as well as larger discussions and dinner at the compound's Laurel Cabin which included Vice President Dick Cheney Bush walked Blair on a wooded path back to his helicopter and the British premier headed off for London.
The session was an excellent one that focused on "the importance of rallying the international community" behind dealing with the threat Saddam poses, said Bush spokesman Sean McCormack.
Without specifying what course he prefers, Blair said the United States and Britain want the international community to form a broad coalition against Saddam but said it must achieve results not preserve the status quo. "The U.N. has got to be the way of dealing with this issue, not the way of avoiding dealing with it," the prime minister said.
Bush is strongly considering a U.N. Security Council resolution that would set a deadline for Iraq to open its weapons sites to unfettered inspection and to apply punitive action if the Iraqi president refuses. Bush would not comment on his intentions.
The two leaders agreed leaders said Saddam could not be trusted.
"This man is a man who said he was going to get rid of weapons of mass destruction and for 11 long years he has not fulfilled his promise," Bush said.
Said Blair: "The threat from Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction chemical, biological, potentially nuclear weapons capability that threat is real."
Iraq has recently stepped up attempts to import industrial equipment that could be used to enrich uranium for use in nuclear weapons new evidence Saddam is trying to revitalize his nuclear program, a U.S. intelligence official said Saturday.
Several equipment shipments destined for Iraq have been stopped, the official said, declining to say by whom or where. Despite Saddam's efforts, Iraq is not believed to have obtained the material required to make a nuclear weapon, officials said.
Bush said the U.S. policy continues to call for Saddam's removal from power, but that there are options short of military action to achieve that goal. "There's all kinds of ways to change regimes."
Blair, nearly alone among world leaders as an unflinching ally with Bush against Iraq, cast doubt on whether Iraq would ever allow U.N. weapons inspectors the freedom to work effectively.
"I have to point out that we have got to see this in the light of experience. Why did the inspectors go? It was because the inspectors found they couldn't do their work. Whatever weapons inspection regime is put in has to be one that's very effective," Blair told reporters as he flew to the United States.
Saddam refuses to allow inspectors into his country and says Iraq has already destroyed its weapons of mass destruction.
However, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said in Italy that he believed there is a "strong possibility" weapons inspectors will be allowed to return to Iraq and have unlimited access to "whatever sites" they wanted to see.
Homeland security chief Tom Ridge said he had a "very appropriate" meeting with Moussa and that Bush had yet to decide on a possible U.S. attack.
Russia's defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, told reporters in Moscow that his government believes a quick and unconditional return of the inspectors could ease the crisis.
But Iraq's information minister said in Jordan that the United States only cares about "a change in the political regime in Iraq."
"To hell with them," Mohammad Saeed Sahaf said of the U.S. government. "They, their sons and their grandchildren will be changed and the regime in Iraq won't be."
In Blair, the U.S. president has an outspoken supporter of his Iraq policy despite criticism from the British public, his own party and others in Europe.
Blair said last week his government hoped to soon publish a dossier of evidence on the Iraqi president's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. Britain released a similar paper against Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network just days before the start of the U.S.- and British-led strikes in Afghanistan.