- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

The White House yesterday said it has "solid" evidence that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction and accused Saddam Hussein's regime of "lying" for denying it.
With Baghdad poised to repeat its denial in a report to the United Nations tomorrow, President Bush was asked by a reporter to assess the likelihood of war.
"That's a question that you should ask Saddam Hussein," he said, sparking laughter in the Cabinet Room of the White House. "It's his choice to make."
He added: "To answer your question, the question is whether or not he chooses to disarm. And we hope he does. For the sake of peace, he must disarm."
Asked when he would decide whether to wage war, Mr. Bush said, "You'll see."
In his first words on the inspections since they resumed last week, Saddam said yesterday that he would give U.N. weapons inspectors a chance to disprove U.S. accusations that Iraq has such programs.
"Some might claim we didn't give [the inspectors] the proper chance to disprove the American allegations that Iraq produced weapons of mass destruction during the period of the inspectors' absence," Saddam said in remarks broadcast on Iraqi television.
"For that reason, we shall provide them with such a chance, after which, if the weaklings remain weak and the cowardly remain cowards, then we shall take the stand that befits our people, principles and mission," he said.
The inspectors have reported cooperation from Iraq in visits to 20 suspect sites, although no inspections were set for yesterday or today because of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday, the last day of Ramadan.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz insisted his nation is not armed.
"We don't have weapons of mass destruction," he told ABC News late Wednesday. "We don't have chemical, biological or nuclear weaponry, but we have equipment which was defined as dual use," which can be used to produce both commercial products and implements of war.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer flatly disputed Mr. Aziz's denial.
"Iraq has lied before, and they're lying now about whether they possess weapons of mass destruction," he said. "Tariq Aziz's statement is very much like statements that Iraq made throughout the '90s, denying that they had weapons of mass destruction, when, of course, it was found that they indeed had weapons of mass destruction.
"And so I see little reason to believe Iraq now when they have such a history of lying in the past about this very topic."
Mr. Fleischer declined to confirm a report in yesterday's editions of The Washington Times that the administration is prepared to declare Iraq in violation of the U.N. resolution requiring Baghdad to give up weapons of mass destruction. A senior administration official told The Times the violation would be declared a "material breach" of the resolution and not an immediate cause for war, although it would bolster the president's call for tougher inspections.
"I saw that report this morning and, of course, it's impossible to say until we know what Iraq submits on their declaration on the eighth," Mr. Fleischer said. "And so we look forward to reviewing what they submit on the eighth. But prior to then, I think anything else is mere speculation."
Some U.N. Security Council members, meanwhile, voiced tempered consternation with the Bush administration's skepticism about the new round of weapons inspections in Iraq.
One diplomat said he was "disappointed" by Washington's apparent decision that Saddam will be in "material breach," the term used in Resolution 1441.
"Why spend two months trying to build agreement for a resolution, if you are not going to let it play out?" the diplomat said in reference to last month's 15-0 Security Council vote on the resolution that sent weapons inspectors to Baghdad.
Still, the administration made no attempt to hide that it has intelligence to disprove Iraq's denial of weapons.
"The president of the United States and the secretary of defense would not assert as plainly and bluntly as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it was not true, and if they did not have a solid basis for saying it," Mr. Fleischer said. "The Iraqi government has proved time and time again to deceive, to mislead and to lie."
Mr. Fleischer emphasized that even if inspectors fail to find weapons, Iraq will not escape the wrath of the United States.
He said Saddam must proactively disclose his weapons, not keep them away from inspectors.
"If an adversary wants to hide, it's not hard to hide weapons of mass destruction from even the best inspectors, particularly in a country the size of Iraq," he said. "So Iraq is under an obligation under international law not to just not hide, but to cooperate. Iraq must cooperate."
Although the disclosure report is due Sunday, Saddam has said he will deliver it tomorrow.
"If he sends in, you know, one piece of paper with one paragraph on it, then it's rather easy to study it, won't take much time," Mr. Fleischer said. "If he sends in tens of thousands of pages worth of documents, it'll require some time to take a look at."
Hussam Mohammed Amin, head of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate, said Baghdad's arms dossier for the United Nations would be huge but would repeat "that in Iraq there are no weapons of mass destruction."
The declaration is likely to be thousands of pages long and may take 10 days to analyze, U.N. diplomats say.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told reporters that the report would have value in showing Saddam's deceit, even if it didn't result in an immediate war.
Saddam "may declare that [Iraq] has no holdings of WMD; or he may fill the declaration with meaningless detail designed to put the inspectors off the scent.
"While this weekend will not be the moment to declare Iraq either in breach or in compliance, a false declaration would make clear to the world that Saddam's strategy is deceit. We will not allow him to get away with it," Mr. Straw said.
In his speech, Saddam blasted countries that had not stood up to the U.S. campaign against him, saying Iraq had "put up a defense on behalf of every honest, patriotic person in the face of the unjust, arrogant, debased American tyranny."
Betsy Pisik contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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