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UN Plays Waiting Game With Iraq

But diplomats fear another showdown if Saddam continues to defy cease-fire resolutions

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THE tough talk between the United Nations Security Council and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein over his defiance of UN cease-fire resolutions could yet lead to another showdown.

For the moment, however, the standoff is more a test of each side's commitment and patience. Diplomats term the battle a "waiting game." Saddam hopes the intense UN interest in Iraq will taper. UN Council members, mulling their options, hope he will back down as he has before.

In many ways it is Washington's talk and deeds that are fueling much of the speculation over what the UN might do next.

President Bush, who has reportedly authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to take covert action in support of dissident efforts to overthrow Saddam, last week openly sent CIA director Robert Gates to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel to confer with his counterparts as well as top officials. The trip is seen as one more effort to jack up the pressure on Saddam.

"You're watching psychological warfare," a Middle East expert says.

Some US officials also have talked about a possible "demonstration" bombing of a factory that produces weapons of mass destruction if UN inspectors are denied access to it.

Yet veteran UN observers doubt that the US would act on its own or garner the necessary support for UN action.

Edward Luck, president of the United Nations Association of the USA, says talk of any further military action could create fissures within the coalition.

"I don't think you'd get any unanimity on that within the Council as a UN operation," he says.

Ambassador Richard Murphy, a former US assistant secretary of state and currently senior fellow for the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations, agrees that any further UN authorization of force would be hard to get.

"The coalition is hanging together nicely because it isn't under pressure to have to do anything," he says. Asked if the Gates visit could threaten Council solidarity, Ambassador Murphy says the action may make some nonaligned members "anxious." He adds jokingly, "They're always suspicious that we [the US] will turn back into real cowboys, like they've come to know and love us."

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