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Defiance And Diplomacy In Iraq

U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said Tuesday that "time is running out" for Iraq to comply with U.N. arms inspections, but said no decision had been made on whether to launch a military strike against Iraq.

"This can't go on forever," Cohen told reporters at the Pentagon. "Diplomacy always should have every opportunity to dance. But at some point, a dance has a beginning and an end."

Meanwhile, Iraq levelled its anger against Gulf Arab states on Tuesday for allowing visits by the U.S. and British defense ministers drumming up support for possible military action against Baghdad over U.N. arms inspections.

The newspaper al-Iraq lashed out at Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states for allowing Cohen to visit the region last week.

He toured the six GCC countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates [UAE] and Oman) to gain support for possible military action against Iraq in response to Baghdad's refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors.

"How is it that Arab states allow and provide entry visas to a Zionist like Cohen to issue threats against Iraq?" al-Iraq said.

On Monday, reports CBS News Correspondent Allen Pizzey, there were contradictory signals out of Baghdad as more U.N. weapons inspectors left, while signs of diplomatic progress emerged.

After more than five hours of talks with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz on Monday, former Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds said he was going to Washington with a message from Aziz.

"He believes that, with goodwill on both sides, that a compromise can be worked out. He's certainly very open about it. He was very flexible about it, and he would like to see that happen," Reynolds said.

The diplomatic activity, however, does not mean the danger is past.

The Iraqi faces the outside world sees are not the ones who will determine how this crisis ends.

Decision-making in Baghdad done by a dangerously isolated group close to Saddam Hussein -- men who are "totally disconnected from the outside world," according to a Western diplomat with long experience in the region.

Few of them speak English, or have ever traveled abroad. They rarely meet outsiders. The ruling elite are isolated even from their own people, who in turn have been cut off by eight years of U.N. sanctions.

The CIA said Monday that Iraq could rebuild its chemical and biological arsenals if international arms inspections ceased. In reaction to the latest standoff, the Clinton administration braced itself for various options.

Iraq has "the capability to quickly resurrect weapons of mass destruction production absent U.N. sanctions," the CIA reported to lawmakers. Although the report predates the latest flurry of activity involving Iraq, a U.S. intelligence official said Monday that the assessment reflects the agency's current thinking.

Administration offcials are debating whether continued inspections or an open-ended threat of military force can root out Iraq's suspected secret weapons cache. Ten days ago, Saddam Hussein declared a halt to cooperation with the U.N. Special Commission that searches for chemical and biological weapons. President Clinton's national security team has developed options for him that include air strikes.

A concern that could rule out strikes is that Iraq might respond by permanently banning the international search for illegal chemical and biological weapons. In addition, a return to the crosshairs of U.S. military might could shore up Saddam with a measure of international sympathy and support.

At the State Department, spokesman James Rubin sought to dispel suggestions that the United States was alone in its effort to isolate and punish Iraq for noncompliance with international arms inspectors.

"What has happened in recent weeks, is we've seen the coalescing and the clarity of the entire world that Iraq is in noncompliance, that this current problem is Iraq's fault," Rubin said. "The blame of the whole world is resting clearly and squarely on the doorstep of Iraq and the shoulders of Saddam Hussein...We don't feel lonely."

Saudi and Egyptian officials have urged the United States and the international community to pursue diplomatic rather than military solutions to the standoff. And Reynolds, who helped lay the groundwork for the Northern Ireland peace accord, said Monday he believed Iraq had met 80 percent of U.N. demands on weapons and that the "remaining 20 percent, in my view, does not justify a strike or a return to conflict."

Iraq is eager to negotiate an easing of crippling sanctions that were imposed on it after the 1991 Gulf War. However, the U.S. has been adamant that sanctions are not negotiable until weapons monitors can verify that Iraq is no longer a threat to the region.

©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report