- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 13, 2002

BAGHDAD A senior Iraqi official said yesterday there is no need for U.N. weapons inspectors to return to Baghdad and branded as a "lie" accusations that Saddam Hussein still has weapons of mass destruction.

In response to the comments by the Iraqi information minister, the U.S. State Department said Baghdad was refusing to give a straight answer on resuming inspections after nearly four years.

"They refuse to face up to their obligations, and obfuscate and look for ways to move the goal posts when it's a simple situation," spokesman Philip Reeker said.

"The issue is not inspections, but verified disarmament," he said. "Iraq needs to disarm."

Iraq's information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, said President Bush was lying about the country's weapons programs to drum up support for his Iraq policy, which calls for the Iraqi president's ouster.

Mr. Bush "knows that he is standing in quicksand when it comes to his baseless talk on Iraq," Mr. al-Sahhaf told the Arabic satellite television service Al Jazeera.

He also said Iraqi opposition leaders who met with key American officials in Washington last week were "bats and a bad American product." He called American courting of the opposition figures "a stupid game that reflects [U.S.] bankruptcy."

His remarks came as many countries including some U.S. allies have expressed opposition to the possibility of U.S. military action against Iraq and as Baghdad has opened a campaign portraying itself as a victim of U.S. propaganda.

Mr. al-Sahhaf said the U.N. work concerning Iraqi weapons programs was completed. "They claim something remains. This talk can be responded to and disproved," he said in the interview, conducted in Iraq and monitored in Cairo.

"This is a lie. This is an American stance," he said of Washington's insistence that Iraq still possesses or seeks to build chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

"Inspections have finished in Iraq," he said.

A report by the U.N. inspection agency issued in January 1999 a month after inspectors were withdrawn mentioned priority issues that Iraq had not satisfactorily resolved. Those included its development of VX, a deadly chemical-weapons nerve agent; its missile-production capabilities; and many remaining questions about its biological-weapons program.

Despite intense discussions within the Bush administration about preparation for a possible invasion of Iraq, the president said Saturday he had no "imminent war plan," but that Saddam remains "an enemy until proven otherwise."

It was not clear from Mr. al-Sahhaf's remarks whether Iraq was shutting the inspectors out for good. Baghdad has been sending mixed signals on whether it will act on its recent invitation to U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix to meetings in Iraq to determine how to resolve outstanding disarmament issues.

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