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Iraq: U.S. Signals Dissatisfaction With Arms Declaration

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says Washington has found problems with Iraq's declaration to the United Nations regarding the status of its weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. The top U.S. diplomat refused to detail what faults Washington has found with the file but press reports have suggested the declaration may contain much information that is outdated or irrelevant. RFE/RL looks at some of the reasons why U.S. officials are saying they are "skeptical" about the declaration's contents, just days before Washington is expected to give its official reaction to the UN.

Prague, 17 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Washington is signaling its dissatisfaction with the contents of Iraq's weapons declaration to the United Nations even as U.S. officials prepare to give their official reaction later this week.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says that Washington's analysis of the information in the declaration justifies what he calls America's "skepticism" that Iraq would ever fully disclose its weapons of mass destruction programs.

Powell told reporters yesterday that the declaration has "problems." "We said at the very beginning that we approached it [the Iraqi weapons declaration] with skepticism, and the information I've received so far is that skepticism is well-founded. There are problems with the declaration."

Powell provided no details as to the nature of the problems, which have been identified as Washington has matched the declaration's contents with what U.S. intelligence services know about Iraq's weapons programs.

The U.S. secretary of state added that Washington is in contact with arms-inspection agencies and the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council and is withholding its final judgment until the analysis is complete. "We are sharing the problems we see with UNMOVIC [United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission] and IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], and we're in discussions with the permanent members of the Security Council, but we will withhold making a final judgment or final statement until we have completed our analysis."

The members of the Security Council are expected to present their formal reactions to the declaration after UN arms-control chief Hans Blix delivers his own assessment of the declaration on 19 December.

Paul Cornish, the director of the Center for Defense Studies at King's College in London, said that U.S. and British officials appear most dissatisfied with the quality of information Baghdad has provided regarding its biological- and chemical-weapons programs. "There are general disappointments insofar as the list of BW [biochemical weapons] and CW [chemical weapons] equipment and commodities that was left hanging over from December 1998. That hasn't been answered in detail."

UN inspectors were barred from working in Iraq in December 1998 in the wake of U.S. and British air strikes to punish Baghdad for not cooperating with weapons monitors. The inspectors returned to work in Iraq late last month and are looking for evidence that Iraq's arms programs continued unabated during their four-year absence.

U.S. officials have said privately that there are many gaps in the information in the Iraqi declaration and little attempt to address some of the inspectors' most pressing concerns. The declaration has not been made public and most officials speak about it off the record.

Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" quotes U.S. intelligence experts as saying the declaration fails to account for tons of chemical and biological agents missing when inspectors were forced to leave in 1998, including 550 shells filled with mustard gas which Baghdad says it "lost."

The paper also says that, on the nuclear front, the declaration fails to answer why Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Africa. Baghdad also does not explain why it was caught trying to buy high-technology equipment suitable for building a uranium-enrichment plant.

Similarly, there are press reports that the declaration contains considerable amounts of outdated or irrelevant information. Britain's "The Guardian" says the declaration mentions a "terminated radiation bomb project" -- a reference to Iraqi attempts to build a "dirty bomb" in which radioactive material is dispersed by conventional explosives. But the paper quotes IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming as saying that that project was in place before the 1991 Gulf War and dismantled by inspectors immediately afterwards.

Baghdad has said that the documentation is complete and that it will prove that all of Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs have been discontinued.

In submitting the declaration on time to the UN earlier this month, General Hossam Mohammed Amin, the official in charge of compiling the report, said, "I reiterate here that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction, but these declarations perhaps contain some activities and equipment which are dual-use and they will be declared fully and completely and accurately to the Security Council, to UNMOVIC, and to the IAEA."

It remains unclear what action the U.S. may take if -- in its official reaction to the UN later this week -- Washington deems the Iraqi declaration unacceptable.

Under UN Resolution 1441 -- the tough new resolution the UN passed early last month -- Baghdad is required to provide an "accurate, full and complete declaration" of its chemical-, biological-, and nuclear-weapons programs, as well as of long-range missiles.

The resolution, which was sponsored by the U.S., also says that "any false statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq" in response to UN demands "shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq's obligations." The U.S. has said it considers material -- or serious -- breaches of Iraq's disarmament obligations a cause to go to war, unilaterally if necessary.

However, shortly after Iraq submitted its declaration to the UN early this month, several top U.S. officials said they would not regard problems with the current declaration alone as an automatic "trigger" for military action. Many analysts believe the U.S. will choose to let Baghdad commit more than one material breach to Resolution 1441 in order to ease Washington's task of assembling a multinational coalition to disarm Iraq by force.

For now, Washington is keeping all of its options open. U.S. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer refused yesterday to say how seriously Washington will regard an unacceptable Iraqi arms declaration. But at the same time, he warned Iraq that it will not be given a chance to resubmit information now missing from its report.

He said, "I think it is abundantly plain from the will of the United Nations [that] this was Iraq's last chance to inform the world in an accurate, complete, and full way what weapons of mass destruction they possessed."