- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 (UPI) — The United States said Thursday that the U.N. weapons inspection report on Iraq and the country's suspected weapons of mass destruction proves Baghdad's non-compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, despite the inspectors' failure to find illicit weapons stockpiles or precursor materials.

The judgment came amid reports of growing dissension over possible war with Iraq in the Labor government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington's staunchest ally in the face off with Saddam Hussein. The report was delivered by both John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and by White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

"While they (the inspectors) said that there is no smoking gun, they said the absence of it is not assured," Fleischer said. "And that's the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem is that Iraq is good at hiding things.

"We know for a fact weapons are there," he said.

Earlier, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, who presented a preliminary briefing on the inspections' findings after nearly two months of inspections, said his teams had failed to come up with evidence of Iraqi violations of international weapons mandates. However, he added, "We think that the declaration (by Iraq) failed to answer a great many questions."

The findings were to be formally presented to the Security Council on Jan. 27. In early December, in the face of a U.N. ultimatum, Iraq delivered a 12,000-page declaration on its weapons programs, claiming it had no proscribed weapons of mass destruction but not presenting any proof of what happened to earlier known or suspected stockpiles.

Under terms of Resolution 1441, passed unanimously in November after weeks of intense U.S. lobbying, Iraq must provide proof it does not have banned weapons or materials, the White House said.

At the State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said there's no indication Iraq has changed its approach from the one "based on deceit and deception."

"There's no indication that they've made a strategic decision to disarm. There's no evidence of disarmament. There's no active cooperation," he said.

Boucher said there are a lot of areas where Iraq has failed to come up with any credible evidence to explain what happened to "things like mustard gas shells, empty artillery shells, VX gas, missile fuels and missiles being tested."

"The list of personnel that Iraq provided is not complete and current. In fact, much of the information that Iraq has submitted, upon the examination that we and others have now been able to give it, proves to be incomplete, inaccurate and recycled."

Failure to provide that proof would constitute a violation of the accord Iraq agreed to in early December, delaying possible U.S. military action to disarm the country of the chemical and biological weapons it had at the time of the 1991 Gulf War and for which it never fully accounted, and any new caches.

Fleischer quoted from Blix's preliminary report to buttress the assertion that Iraq had to prove itself innocent, rather than the international community having to prove its guilt.

"They cite a number of issues that are real causes of concern by the United States government," Fleischer added. "And among the things that the inspectors themselves have said are discrepancies and inconsistencies. These deal with special munitions, illegal imports on a relatively large number of missile engines, contradictions involving the chemical agent VX, inadequate response by Iraq to provide the names of all personnel who have been involved in weapons of mass destruction program.

"The inspectors themselves have concluded that Iraq failed to make a serious effort to respond to this information that the world has required."

President George W. Bush has repeatedly said Iraq poses a grave and growing danger because of its 11-year defiance of U.N. disarmament mandates, its earlier use of chemical weapons against its dissident Kurdish minority, its aggression toward neighbors and the danger it could become a conduit for weapons of mass destruction to terrorist organizations.

What is more, the United States and Britain have argued, intelligence indicates Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has attempted to obtain a nuclear weapons capability.

Washington, which has vowed to lead a military coalition against Iraq to forcibly disarm it, has been steadily building up forces in the Gulf for several months. There are about 60,000 troops in the region now, and more are flowing in each day.

Britain's prime minister has also announced the possible deployment of troops to the Gulf.

Iraq says the United States and Britain merely want control of Iraqi oil — it is believed to have the world's second-largest reserve — and is using a bogus argument to justify aggression.

If Iraq is deemed by the council as being in material breach of the new mandate, which requires full, complete and honest cooperation with weapons inspectors, it could vote for "serious consequences," including military force.

The White House insisted Thursday that no timeline had been given for inspectors to complete their work in Iraq, although it is generally believed the Jan. 27 report could well start the clock ticking on a countdown to action.

"The president has said he wants the inspectors to be able to do their jobs, to continue their efforts, and that's what we support," the White House spokesman said.

But, he added, "I think when you hear the list of concerns that Hans Blix and Dr. (Mohamed) ElBaradei (head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency) have delineated about the failure of Iraq to comply fully with all their obligations, it gives ongoing cause for concern to the world."

Fleischer said the buildup of U.S. troops in the Gulf sends Iraq a serious message: " … Either Saddam Hussein disarms, or we will disarm him."

In other developments, it was reported Thursday that Turkey's new government, heeding public opinion, has still not acted on a U.S. request for temporary access to military installations in the country in case of war with Iraq. It is believed the United States wants the access for staging troops to move against the north of Iraq in the event of war.

Fleischer, when asked in a new briefing about the situation with Turkey, would only say the two governments have a long history of cooperation. The United States, he said, would continue to "coordinate very closely with Turkey on the best approach to issues in the region."

As for dissent in Blair's Cabinet, Fleischer simply repeated his comments about the longstanding friendship between the two countries and their "common approach to confronting the threat to peace that Iraq represents."

(with additional reporting by Anwar Iqbal at the State Department)

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