WASHINGTON — The Bush administration rejected Iraq's weapons declaration Thursday, saying it was riddled with omissions and warning Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein that he had moved his nation closer to war as a result.
Secretary of State Colin Powell called the 12,000-page document that Iraq delivered two weeks ago "a catalog of recycled information and flagrant omissions." He said it failed to account for chemical and biological weapons Iraq was known to possess before 1998 or weapons development it had undertaken since.
If Iraq continues to defy a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding its disarmament, "then we're not going to find a peaceful solution to this problem," he said.
Powell stopped short of suggesting that President Bush has decided to go to war to topple Saddam. But he made it clear that the United States would not wait much longer for clues that Saddam is willing to reverse what American officials say is 11 years of intransigence and disarm peacefully.
"There is no calendar deadline, but obviously there is a practical limit to how much longer you can just go down the road of noncooperation and how much time the (U.N. weapons) inspectors can be given to do their work," Powell said.
He repeatedly used the term "weeks" during his news conference, suggesting the crisis could come to a head late next month, when chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix is due to deliver a report on Iraqi cooperation.
Powell, who has been the Bush administration's most cautious voice on Iraq, spoke after Blix delivered his own initial critique of Iraq's weapons declaration to the 15-nation U.N. Security Council.
Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported that the document -- Iraq's final chance to declare its weapons of mass destruction programs -- did not answer outstanding questions about production and development activities.
"We are consistent in the view that there has been relatively little given in the declaration, by way of evidence, concerning the programs of weapons of mass destruction," Blix said.
"An opportunity was missed in the declaration to give a lot of evidence," he said. But he left open the door for Iraq to provide the desired information now.
Iraqi Deputy U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Salmane rejected as baseless U.S. and British charges that Iraq is still hiding such weapons, saying the two nations should present whatever evidence they have.
"I would like to confirm that the Iraqi declaration is complete and comprehensive," Salmane said.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte told Security Council members during the private briefing that the declaration "is an insult to our intelligence and indeed an insult to this council," according to people who attended.
In the coming weeks, the Bush administration will press Blix to conduct even more aggressive inspections in Iraq and begin interviewing Iraqi weapons scientists outside of Iraq, away from possible retaliation by Saddam.
Blix has asked Baghdad to provide a list of such scientists, and Powell said Washington would suggest names of its own.
Powell indicated that the United States will begin sharing detailed intelligence with Blix's agency, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, to point inspectors toward suspected banned-weapons work. Britain already is providing such intelligence.
The United States maintains that the onus is on Saddam to prove he is no longer hiding nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, or the missiles to deliver them.
But public opinion polls show that many Americans think Bush has not yet presented evidence that justifies a war. U.S. allies widely share that view.
France, a key player in Iraq diplomacy, said Thursday that while the weapons declaration was disappointing, it was up to the inspectors -- not Washington -- to determine whether Iraq was hiding prohibited weapons.
The weapons dossier "doesn't lift the doubts," said Jean-Marc de la Sabiliere, the French ambassador to the United Nations. "It is through (inspections teams) that the international community will be able to verify whether weapons of mass destruction programs are still going on in Iraq."
Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov criticized the United States for not providing its evidence of Iraqi weapons violations to other council members and inspectors while asserting Iraq was in "material breach" of U.N. Security Council resolution 1441.
"It's not a poker game, where you hold your cards and call each others' bluff," said Lavrov, whose country is one of the council's five permanent members.
He also disapproved of the material-breach claim, saying "it is not up to individual council members to make this judgment."
Powell, in his news conference, said the Iraqi document contained "material omissions that, in our view, constitute another material breach" of U.N. mandates that Iraq give up its weapons.
While the Bush administration could use the material-breach charge to justify invading Iraq, top officials have decided against that course for now, diplomats said.
In fact, resolution 1441, passed unanimously Nov. 8, says Iraq already is in material breach of previous U.N. resolutions. It threatens Iraq with "serious consequences" if the declaration contains omissions and false statements and Iraq fails "at any time to comply" with the resolution.
Under the agreements that ended the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraq is prohibited from possessing or developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and ballistic missiles with a range of more than 93 miles.
Powell said the Iraqis had failed to account for numerous weapons and weapons ingredients whose fate a previous weapons-inspection body could not determine. Those inspectors withdrew from Iraq in December 1998 after facing repeated obstacles to their work.
The material includes "growth media" to produce more than 6,800 gallons of anthrax -- three times as much as Iraq ever admitted to having -- and chemical weapons ingredients that could have been used to produce up to 500 tons of mustard gas, sarin gas and VX nerve gas.
Powell said the Iraqis also didn't address U.S. concerns about post-1998 weapons development, including American and British intelligence reports that Iraq has developed mobile biological-weapons labs and has tried to obtain high-strength aluminum tubes that could be used in centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. Some U.S. intelligence analysts, however, think the tubes may have been destined for nonprohibited weapons work.
Thousands of the document's pages represent material that Iraq already had submitted to the United Nations years ago, Powell said. Other passages, he said, are copies of past reports written by U.N. weapons inspectors, with references critical of Iraq removed.
A fact sheet that the State Department distributed cited other deficiencies in the document, including the failure to mention Iraq's attempts to procure uranium ore from Niger and to convert unmanned aerial vehicles to disperse chemical and biological agents.
"Iraq's noncompliance and defiance at the international community has brought it closer to the day when it will have to face these (serious) consequences," Powell said. "The world is still waiting for Iraq to comply with its obligations. The world will not wait forever."