- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Libya is “exceeding my expectations” in opening up its weapons programs to U.S. and international inspectors, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told a House panel yesterday.

While saying U.S. officials will proceed cautiously, Mr. Powell gave the House International Relations Committee an upbeat assessment of the performance by the regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi since his unexpected pledge Dec. 19 to surrender his nuclear and unconventional weapons programs.

When asked how Libya has performed to date, Mr. Powell said: “The answer is very, very well.”

“I had to sort of retrain myself and some of the old-timers on my staff that this is not like the Soviet Union, where we were pulling [weapons information] out of them,” Mr. Powell said. The Libyans “are pushing it at us.”

The hearing, nominally convened to examine the State Department’s fiscal 2005 budget, also featured several testy exchanges between Mr. Powell and committee Democrats over Iraq. Lawmakers challenged the administration’s prewar intelligence and Mr. Powell’s own testimony before the United Nations a year ago on the threat from Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs.

“It’s been said that truth is the first casualty in war,” said Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, New York Democrat. “I would contend that truth was murdered before a single shot was fired.”

Rep. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, charged: “We went into this war under false premises.”

Mr. Powell countered that President Bush had relied on the conclusions of U.S. intelligence services about the state of Iraq’s chemical, biological and nuclear programs. He also said postwar assessments have shown that Saddam had the intent, the capability and some of the missiles needed to rebuild his weapons programs quickly if international sanctions faltered.

“The truth was not murdered. Nobody shaped [the information], nobody told the intelligence analysts what to say,” he said.

Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, defended the administration’s Iraq policy, saying the United States has “gained enormous credibility” with the tough line taken against Saddam. Libya, Iran and North Korea all have made concessions on their weapons programs since the war partly because of the Bush administration’s stand, he said.

The Libyan rapprochement has proceeded at a startling pace since Mr. Bush announced the weapons agreement in December.

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