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Analysis: White House Warning That President Bush Is Not Bluffing When It Comes To Saddam Hussein Declaring Iraq's Weapons Of Mass Destruction

Morning Edition: December 19, 2002

Inspectors to Give U.N. Assessment on Iraq

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Bob Edwards is in Los Angeles. I'm Alex Chadwick.

The United Nations' top weapons inspectors today share their preliminary assessment of Iraq's weapons declaration with the 15 members of the UN Security Council. The five permanent members, including the US, also have been analyzing the declaration. US and British officials say the documents provided by Baghdad fall far short of a full and accurate accounting of Iraq's weapons capability. But they seem willing to let UN inspectors continue to look for evidence. NPR's Vicky O'Hara reports.

VICKY O'HARA reporting:

President Bush has described Iraq's weapons declaration as the last chance to comply with UN demands for disarmament and thus avoid the possibility of war. Yesterday, British foreign secretary Jack Straw said the documents showing no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq fool no one. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was less blunt, but the message was the same.

Mr. ARI FLEISCHER (White House Spokesman): The president is concerned about Iraq's failure to list information in this document. The president is concerned with omissions in this document and the president is concerned with problems in this document. I leave it at that.

O'HARA: Yesterday, after a meeting with top officials of the European Union, Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed pessimism about what lies ahead.

Secretary COLIN POWELL (State Department): Iraq was given an opportunity in UN Resolution 1441 to cooperate with the international community, to stop deceiving the world with respect to its weapons of mass destruction. We are not encouraged that they have gotten the message or will cooperate based on what we have seen so far in the declaration.

O'HARA: Despite the negative assessments, the United States is in no rush to find Iraq in material breach of the United Nations resolution on disarmament. Fleischer says the US will wait to hear the views of the chief UN weapons inspectors, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei today in New York.

Mr. FLEISCHER: Following that I think you will see the United States move in a very deliberative and thoughtful way about what the implications of this are.

O'HARA: Secretary of State Powell makes it clear that the United States is not preparing to act alone, at least at this time, to force Iraq to disarm.

Sec. POWELL: We will stay within the UN process and we will share our analysis of the declaration with other members of the Council and discuss how to move forward in the weeks ahead.

O'HARA: A senior administration official says that as UN experts and members of the Security Council discuss their findings and share information, the United States will put increased pressure on UN weapons inspectors to use all tools provided to them to ascertain the truth about Iraq's weapons activity. That means taking Iraqi scientists out of Iraq for questioning and offering the scientists and their families asylum. Hans Blix has been reluctant to do that. He says the United Nations is not a defections agency. Nonetheless, the senior official says discussions already are under way concerning the complicated logistics of getting scientists out of the country. US officials say the scientists offer the best hope of finding indisputable evidence of Iraqi violations. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer warns that while the president is prepared to let the inspections process continue, Mr. Bush means what he says.

Mr. FLEISCHER: I assure you this president does not bluff. When he said that Saddam Hussein must disarm, and that he wants Saddam Hussein to disarm so peace can be preserved or Saddam Hussein will be disarmed, it is not a bluff. He hopes Saddam Hussein will do it still.

O'HARA: After Blix and ElBaradei brief the Security Council today, Powell and John Negroponte, the US ambassador to the United Nations, will offer an American assessment of the Iraqi declarations. US officials say that Washington then will try to convince skeptics that the US conclusions are accurate. But administration officials emphasize that there are no plans for immediate military action against Iraq. Vicky O'Hara, NPR News, Washington.

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