Byline: JEREMY CAMPBELL;CHARLES REISS
GEORGE BUSH today readied his people for imminent war on Iraq and confronted the UN, telling his critics it was time to "show their cards".
The President promised he would try one more time to win backing from the Security Council for military action. But in a threat that heralds a crisis for Tony Blair, he warned: "If we need to act, we will act and we really don't need the UN's approval to do so. When it comes to our security, we really don't need anybody's permission."
The declaration, in a rare presidential press conference on primetime US television, was the clearest signal yet that, though Mr Bush maintained the final, formal decision had not yet been taken, conflict is inevitable and only days away.
However, new problems loomed for America, Britain and their allies as the UN chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, prepared this afternoon to announce fresh evidence that the Iraqi regime is co-operating.
The latest report from Dr Blix, widely trailed in advance, will point to the recent moves, including the destruction of a number of long range Al-Samoud missiles and a private interview with scientists as evidence of Iraqi co-operation.
At the same time, the inspectors were unveiling a 170-page report throwing massive doubt on Saddam's claim that Iraq has destroyed its chemical and biological warfare weapons and scrapped its nuclear weapons programme.
The report lists hundreds of detailed, unanswered questions along with a list of 29 "major issues" for Saddam to explain.
The report was seized on by Britain and others as a "shocking indictment" of Iraq's failure to comply with repeated UN demands to remove all its weapons of mass destruction.
But the growing array of opponents to war, led by France and reinforced yesterday by China, argued that the dossier demonstrated that the weapons inspections were working and must be given more time. Amid hints of growing irritation from Washington and London, Dr Blix yesterday affirmed his belief that giving the process longer would produce results.
Dr Blix denied that he was " playing into the hands" of the French or anyone else.
But he went on: "I have said, however, that if we were to be given more months, I would welcome it. There were eight years of inspections and there were four years of non-inspections. Now we have had four months of inspections and it seems to be a rather short time to just close the door and say 'this is it'." President Bush in his press conference, which was broadcast in the early hours in London, seemed ready to do just that. …