Saddam Falters on U.S. Expulsion

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Saddam Hussein backpedaled Tuesday on his plan to expel American arms inspectors, deciding to suspend the action pending talks with a senior U.N. delegation.

The decision comes as little surprise. As TIME Pentagon Correspondent Mark Thompson reports, Baghdad's hard-line is more a diplomatic and domestic political gambit than a bid to hide secret weapons.

There's nothing new in Saddam flouting U.N. restrictions on his arsenal, or in U.N. inspectors pointing this out, says Thompson. The dictator's inspector ban was "a typically ham-handed attempt to exploit differences between the U.S. and its allies particularly Russia and France. He's trying to appear to the Iraqi people to be fighting on their behalf to end sanctions."

Sensing weakness in the coalition, Baghdad has tried to provoke Washington into a military response. "Saddam knew that any unilateral U.S. military action will further divide the allies," says Thompson, "which is why the U.S. won't act unilaterally."

With France and Russia supporting U.S. condemnation of Iraq, but unwilling to endorse military action, no fighting seems likely any time soon. Indeed, if anything, Saddam seems to have inadvertently achieved a consensus among coalition forces.