- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2003

The White House said yesterday that the U.S.-led coalition not the United Nations would handle the hunt for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and the world body's chief weapons inspector accused Washington and London of pushing for war on "shaky" intelligence.
With the war in Iraq quickly winding down, several of the nations that opposed the military campaign to oust Saddam Hussein insisted that the United Nations have exclusive authority over the search for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
The Bush administration, however, said the matter is not open to debate, setting the stage for a new confrontation between Washington and U.N. Security Council members Russia, Germany and France.
"Make no mistake about it: The United States and the coalition have taken on the responsibility for dismantling Iraq's [weapons of mass destruction]," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
"We have a coalition that is working on the ground to dismantle Iraq's WMD programs, and we think that's going to be effective. We think it will get the job done," the spokesman said.
The White House yesterday also contradicted France and Russia by denying a linkage between lifting economic sanctions and any official declaration that Iraq was free of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
"Why should any nation support imposing sanctions on the Iraqi people now?" Mr. Fleischer asked. "Sanctions equal Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein is gone. It is wrong now to leave sanctions on the people of Iraq. They don't deserve it."
Long before the U.S.-led campaign, Russia and France had demanded an end to sanctions allowing Saddam's regime to sell oil only to buy food and medicine through a U.N. program.
The program had been providing food for 60 percent of Iraq's 24 million people.
Now that President Bush has urged the U.N. Security Council to lift the sanctions, imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Russia and France insist that inspectors first deem Iraq free of weapons of mass destruction.
Paris, however, said yesterday that it would support the temporary suspension of sanctions, but not their full removal.
France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, said the Security Council "must take into account the new realities on the ground."
But Ambassador Sergey Lavrov of Russia, which holds a veto at the Security Council, said his country is "not at all opposed to the lifting of sanctions" but continues to insist that U.N. inspectors certify that Iraq is rid of all weapons of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix told the British Broadcasting Corp. yesterday that he suspected that the United States and Britain, which provided the forces to remove Saddam, exaggerated assertions that the Iraqi dictator had amassed weapons of mass destruction.
"I think it's been one of the disturbing elements that so much of the intelligence on which the capitals built their case seemed to have been shaky," Mr. Blix said.
He questioned intelligence used by Washington and London to justify an invasion, including "the alleged contract between Iraq and Niger about the import of some 500 tons" of uranium.
"When the [International Atomic Energy Agency] got the contract, they had no great difficulty in finding out that this was a fake, falsified simply," Mr. Blix said. "I think that is very, very disturbing. Who falsifies this? And is it not disturbing that the intelligence agencies that should have all the technical means at their disposal did not discover that this was falsified?"
The Bush administration said Mr. Blix appeared to be stalling for time to extend U.N. inspections and avoid war.
Some critics outside the administration said the chief inspector's team deliberately suppressed information in its prewar report on banned Iraqi weapons, including an unmanned drone plane and a cluster bomb.
Mr. Blix said yesterday the criticism was intended to discredit inspections.
"At that time, the U.S. was very eager to sway the votes of the Security Council, and they felt that stories about these things would be useful to have and they let it out. Thereby, they tried to hurt us a bit and say we'd suppressed this," he said.
Asked whether the United States had leaked information to sway U.N. votes, he said, "It looked like that."
Mr. Blix yesterday addressed the U.N. Security Council in closed session on his readiness to field an inspection team, but a spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte said the argument was pointless.
"We see no immediate role for Dr. Blix and his inspection teams," Richard Grenell said.
Mr. Negroponte said after the closed-door meeting, "For the time being and for the foreseeable future, we see that as a coalition activity."
The White House yesterday dismissed doubts that such weapons would be found, despite reports that an Iraqi scientist had told a U.S. military team that Iraq had destroyed chemical arms and biological warfare equipment days before the war began.
"There's no question we remain confident that the WMD will be found," Mr. Fleischer said. "One of the things that we all knew, and Hans Blix knew it, is what masters of deception the Iraqis are and how many years they had to perfect their deceptions."
The spokesman also hit back at Mr. Blix for his comments to the BBC.
"I think it's unfortunate if Hans Blix would in any way criticize the United States at this juncture. The United States is working with Iraqis to build a new country for them. And I think that would just be unfortunate if his position today is to criticize the United States," he said.
In other postwar diplomacy, senior administration officials met Monday to discuss ways to punish France for its opposition to the Iraq war. A senior official said options include sidelining Paris at NATO, limiting French participation in trans-Atlantic forums and excluding France from policy meetings between the White House and its European allies.
The official said Vice President Dick Cheney strongly advocates punitive action against France.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's deputy, Stephen Hadley, led the meeting with Marc Grossman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, representing Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
Last night, in an interview on PBS' "Charlie Rose Show," Mr. Powell said France would suffer for having vowed to veto any Security Council resolution authorizing an Iraq war.
"It's over and we have to take a look at the relationship. We have to look at all aspects of our relationship with France in light of this," said Mr. Powell, according to a State Department transcript of the interview.
Asked whether there would be concrete actions against France, Mr. Powell said "yes" but gave no details.

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