WASHINGTON - Faced with fresh Iraqi defiance, the Bush administration kept mum yesterday about what it will do about Baghdad's refusal to allow weapons inspectors into the country.
"The president left that for Saddam Hussein to figure out," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "If Iraq is not willing to let arms inspectors into their country, they continue to violate an agreement that they promised to keep."
Baghdad has refused to allow inspectors until U.N. sanctions are lifted. Yesterday, Iraq said it is prepared to defend itself. Iraq "will not be terrified by any arrogant party," the official Iraqi News Agency quoted a government spokesman as saying.
The U.N. Security Council is expected to avoid overhauling sanctions against Saddam Hussein's government when it extends Iraq's U.N. humanitarian program later this week.
President Bush believes "we need to have a smarter sanctions policy that more tightly and narrowly defines the sanctions - the items that would be sanctionable - and to make certain that those sanctions are enforced," Fleischer said.
Bush says the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan is just the beginning of the fight against terrorism, and he warned Iraq and North Korea there would be consequences if they produce weapons of mass destruction.
The president, asked Monday about Iraq and about potential military targets beyond the Afghanistan war, expanded on the list of ways a country can get crosswise with the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism.
"If anybody harbors a terrorist, they're a terrorist," he said Monday. "If they fund a terrorist, they're a terrorist. If they house terrorists, they're terrorists. I mean, I can't make it any more clear to other nations around the world.
"If they develop weapons of mass destruction that will be used to terrorize nations, they will be held accountable," the president said. That remark spelled out a new condition for countries that want to avoid being labeled pro-terrorist.
The U.S. military announced on Tuesday that U.S. aircraft attacked a military command site in southern Iraq in response to "hostile Iraqi threats," which were not specified. It was the first U.S. attack in the southern "no-fly" zone over Iraq since Oct. 13. U.S. and British planes also patrol a "no-fly" zone over northern Iraq and frequently fire on military targets in response to provocations.
Aides, fearing Bush's comments would upset U.S. allies who are reluctant to back action against Iraq, said Saddam is not necessarily the next target after Afghanistan. Other countries that harbor terrorists, such as Somalia, or need help to curb terrorism in their countries, such as Yemen, are just as likely to receive Bush's attention once the Afghanistan campaign is complete, they said.
The president was asked whether he had a message for Saddam as the administration looks toward the next phase of the U.S. campaign.
"My message is ... that if you harbor a terrorist, you're a terrorist," Bush said. "If you develop weapons of mass destruction that you want to terrorize the world, you'll be held accountable."
Some advisers are pushing Bush to make Iraq his next target. Many of those aides worked for Bush's father, who led the country through the Persian Gulf War that ended with Saddam's promise to stop producing weapons of mass destruction and to open his nation to inspectors.