Neither the United Nations nor the United States can afford to let Saddam Hussein bully them into lifting an economic embargo that has been in place since 1991.

The credibility of both are at stake now that Iraq once again is causing trouble.Unfortunately, Saddam's tactics of tiring out the opposition seem to be bearing fruit. Despite escalating the situation Thursday by refusing to let a team of U.N. inspectors carry out searches for banned weapons, there seems to be little appetite to test him. The Security Council's plea for increased dialogue received unanimous approval. The council even hinted it may ease sanctions. And the Security Council's actions were backed by U.S. ambassador Bill Richardson.

Thursday's action followed by a day Saddam's announcement he was freezing cooperation with U.N. inspectors to protest eight years of economic sanctions. All Saddam has to do to find the person responsible for putting the Iraqi people through eight years of deprivation is look in a mirror.

What the world is finding out, as if it didn't already know, is that despots like Saddam don't change. When they agree to something, it only means they abide by the agreement for as long as they feel like it. Despite U.N. resolutions mandating unfettered access to inspection sites to search for weapons of mass destruction, Saddam frequently has thwarted those attempts, at one time even kicking the inspectors out of the country.

He cannot be allowed to violate U.N. resolutions without suffering consequences for his actions. And that may entail more than just sanctions.

In March, the U.N. Security Council sent a clear message to Iraq: Allow complete access to sites by U.N. inspection teams or face the consequences. The Security Council needs to make sure the consequences are severe if Saddam continues his childish antics, because if they're not, what's the point of having an agreement?

In February, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan averted a possible military showdown by getting Iraq to renew its pledge to comply with the resolutions. He wisely put the pressure on Iraq to see that it followed through on its new "commitment" by stating that "whether the threat to international peace and security has been averted for all time is now in the hands of the Iraqi leadership."

The Iraqi leadership, however, has shown again and again that it is not going to voluntarily live up to U.N. mandates. Force is proving to be the only language Saddam understands. It was force, not diplomacy, that got him to leave Kuwait. And it looks like it's going to have to be force again that compels him to abide by this agreement.