- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) — The White House on Friday called the discovery of chemical weapon warheads in Iraq troubling and serious and said that it is increasing clear Saddam Hussein is not living up to his commitments to the United Nations to disarm and divest the country of weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq was in material breach of U.N. resolutions in November when Security Council Resolution 1441 was passed, "they were in material breach during the declaration (of their weapons programs), and they continue to be in material breach," White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

"And certainly the fact that they are now proven to possess chemical warheads does not get them out of material breach."

U.N. weapons inspectors announced Thursday they had uncovered 12 122mm rocket warheads designed to carry chemical agents. The warheads similar to those Iraq had in the 1980s, and similar to some - filled with VX gas — that were found and destroyed after the 1993 Gulf War, were said to be in "excellent condition."

One found in a facility - built in the late 1990s south of Baghdad - was being subjected to further testing.

The warheads were empty, but the White House said Friday mere possession of them was in violation of an earlier U.N. resolution - 687. Also, the warheads were not in the 12,000-page declaration by Iraq last month, which was supposed to have been a definitive listing of its WMD program, arms caches, delivery system and precursor materials.

Iraq says the cache had been forgotten and inadvertently left off the declaration. Washington said it "raises the question of what other memory lapses they are having that have implications to bring harm to their neighbors, our allies and to our interests."

The … issue is whether or not Iraq is doing what it told the world, which is disarming," Fleischer said. "They are not."

President George W. Bush has repeatedly said he would lead a "coalition of the willing" to forcibly disarm Iraq of suspected WMD and remove Saddam if he failed to comply with international mandates and the United Nations failed to act.

Earlier this week, indicating exasperation over what Washington and U.N. inspectors view as Iraq's lack of full compliance and cooperation with inspections, Bush said he was "sick and tired" of Saddam's games and deceptions and that time was running out for the Iraqi leader.

More than 120,000 U.S. troops — plus naval vessels and combat aircraft — will be in the Gulf region by the end of the month in case Bush decides to take military action.

Saddam has fired back, threatening a bloodbath and a defeat of U.S. and allied forces if there is an invasion.

"We're much less interested in Saddam Hussein's talking and much more interested in Saddam Hussein disarming," the White House spokesman said. "The issue is whether Saddam Hussein disarms, and on that point the president has yet to see proof that Saddam Hussein has disarmed."

The find south of Baghdad was the first discovery of consequence since inspections resumed late last year after a 4-year hiatus.

Fleischer declined to speculate if it came about through intelligence information given inspectors by the United States.

He said Washington was continuing to work with the inspectors and the Security Council to "ascertain all relevant information" on the empty warheads found.

U.N. inspectors are to deliver a report to the Security Council on their findings on Jan. 27, a date many are speculating will mark the countdown to U.S. military action.

Chief inspector Hans Blix, however, complicated the issue by saying he may follow an older resolution and submit a second report in late March. Such a move would give ammunition to Security Council members opposed to military action.

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