- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

The United States said yesterday that "troublesome" gaps and omissions in Iraq's declaration of its weapons programs make it unlikely that Baghdad will ever cooperate with U.N. disarmament efforts, though war is not imminent.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell will make a statement on the 12,000-page Iraqi document today, shortly after chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix presents his team's initial assessment to the Security Council, administration officials said.
Yesterday, Mr. Powell said the U.S. analysis "shows problems with the declaration gaps, omissions and all of this is troublesome." He noted that from his conversations with other permanent council members, "I sense that they also see deficiencies.
"We are not encouraged that [the Iraqis] have gotten the message or will cooperate based on what we have seen so far in the declaration," the secretary told reporters at the State Department after meeting with European Union leaders.
But he said the United States "will stay within the U.N. process" and will discuss with fellow Security Council members "how to move forward in the weeks ahead."
Earlier in the day, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said President Bush was "concerned about Iraq's failure to list information" in the report.
Neither he nor Mr. Powell specified the shortcomings. But United Press International quoted a former senior U.S. intelligence officer as saying the United States has evidence in hand of "a whole series of [Iraqi] money transfers and contracts all relating to efforts to build nuclear, biological or chemical weapons" that are not mentioned in the declaration.
These records include Iraqi deposits to Swiss and Persian Gulf bank accounts, dealings with Swedish and German manufacturers, front companies in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, Chinese companies, contracts with South African technological firms and invoices of materials including ingredients for biological and chemical weapons, the official told UPI.
Nevertheless, Mr. Fleischer did not say whether Mr. Bush will declare Iraq in "material breach" of U.N. resolutions anytime soon. Steering clear of bellicose statements, he repeatedly emphasized that the White House is in no hurry to go to war.
"You will see the United States move in a very deliberative and thoughtful way about what the implications of this are," he said of the Iraqi omissions. "The president has said that he wants to work with the international community."
He said Mr. Bush, "having gone to the United Nations, has made the decision that the United States will work with our partners around the world in both the diplomatic areas and in all areas to do everything we can to put the pressure on Saddam Hussein to preserve the peace by disarmament."
He bristled when asked whether Mr. Bush had been bluffing when he previously issued blunt warnings about the possibility of war.
"I assure you, this president does not bluff," Mr. Fleischer said. "The president has said that this is Saddam Hussein's last chance."
Washington's allies on the U.N. Security Council are divided about Baghdad's declaration.
Britain yesterday issued tough statements that were very much in line with those of the Bush administration.
"This will fool nobody," Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said of the Iraqi dossier. "If Saddam persists in this obvious falsehood, it will become clear that he has rejected the pathway to peace laid down in Resolution 1441," which required that Iraq fully disclose its weapons programs.
However, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said yesterday that an omission in Iraq's declaration on weapons of mass destruction would not by itself be a material breach of the U.N. resolution.
"The resolution itself makes clear that it is not only the question of gaps in the dossier, but also deliberate obstruction by Iraq of inspectors" that needs to be taken into account, Mr. Hoon told the British Broadcasting Corp.
France, however, insisted that only the Security Council has the authority to determine whether Iraq is in material breach of the resolution. Such a determination could trigger war.
"In the event of a material breach by Baghdad of its obligations, [the inspectors] should report it to the Security Council and it will be up to the Security Council and the Security Council alone to draw all the conclusions," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told the National Assembly in Paris.
The White House insisted that the council's individual members should be the ones to decide whether Iraq is in material breach. "The inspectors are there to report acts, not to make conclusive judgments in that nature," Mr. Fleischer said.
Other council members were reluctant to offer comments on the Iraqi files before the inspection team makes its presentation today.
"We are waiting to see what Mr. Blix has to say," said a Chinese envoy, whose country has had the report since Dec. 10. Referring to London's and Washington's terse statements, the diplomat added: "We expect him, Dr. Blix, to be more measured."
Russian diplomats also said they will hold their public comments until they hear from Mr. Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The 10 rotating members of the Security Council received their edited sets of Iraq's files Tuesday evening. Some sent them back to their capitals to be analyzed by experts, while others decided to use the available expertise at their U.N. missions.
The Syrians were so unhappy with their copy that they returned it to the inspection team, complaining about the redactions and the U.S. role in editing and distributing the copies.
The reports, distributed in large brown cardboard boxes, had been hastily edited for information that could prove useful to states aspiring to make weapons of mass destruction.
Many of the roughly 5,500 pages also were scarred with thick black marks meant to obscure the names of suppliers and consultants who have helped build Iraq's weapons programs since the 1980s.
Betsy Pisik contributed to this report in New York .

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