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U.S. officials, skeptical of Iraq's report, plan next move

WASHINGTON—Iraq used more than 12,000 pages to say that it has no weapons of mass destruction, but top officials said Sunday that Iraq's report can be summed up in one word: baloney.

"That just doesn't meet the laugh test," said David Kay, former chief U.N. nuclear weapons inspector, on NBC's Meet The Press. Two other former U.N. arms inspectors agreed in interviews elsewhere.

So did former Vice President Al Gore. Asked if he believes Iraq's claims, Gore said, "No, of course not," on ABC's "This Week."

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he has seen classified evidence proving that Saddam continues to seek the outlawed weapons.

"We are in possession of what I think to be compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein has and has had for a number of years, a developing capacity for the production and storage of weapons of mass destruction," Graham said on CBS's `Face The Nation.' "I have seen enough evidence ... to be satisfied that there has been a continuing effort by Saddam Hussein since the end of the Gulf War, particularly since 1998, to re-establish and enhance Iraq's capacity of weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological and nuclear."

In Baghdad, a top adviser to Saddam challenged Washington to make public any proof that Iraq's report is false. "It's accurate, comprehensive and truthful," Gen. Amar al-Saadi said of Iraq's documentation. If others have contrary evidence, he said, "let them come forth with it."

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who will become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next month, said the Bush administration now must decide how much of the now-secret U.S. intelligence to make public in order to rally the world behind military action against Iraq.

"I think these are delicate judgments," Lugar said on CBS. "It depends upon the nature of the intelligence." Often the most valuable information comes from scientists inside a regime, he said, implying that making such intelligence public could expose the sources to harm.

At the same time, Lugar noted, U.S. allies may push Washington to lay out its evidence publicly to justify military action.

Former U.N. weapons inspector Kay emphasized the same point, warning that waiting for the current U.N. inspection process to provide conclusive answers about Iraq's weaponry could play into Saddam's hands.

"I think quite frankly inspection is a dead-end trap right now," Kay said on CNN.

Kay expanded his point on NBC: "What you should not do is get the inspectors again playing that `Where In The World is Waldo' game that we played for 8 years searching for weapons. You can't do that with 50 inspectors in a country the size of California and with eight helicopters. The administration needs to lay its case out to the world and the American public of why it knows that is not true."

Asked if war against Iraq is inevitable, Graham said: "I don't reach that conclusion. I think the administration is genuine in its desire to pursue the issue of disarmament of Iraq, which begins with knowing what it is they've got to disarm. I don't think we would have gone through this process of getting congressional support and then getting the United Nations to adopt a new resolution which gives substantially greater powers to the inspectors just as a show."

Some 25 new U.N. inspectors arrived in Baghdad on Sunday, doubling the number present, and paid a surprise visit to the State Company for Geological Survey and Mining. A nuclear inspection team spent about two hours at the two-building complex, which in the past housed uranium-fuel processing that could have been used in nuclear-weapons.

Iraq's report was sent Sunday to the United Nations in New York, where officials said they would delve into it immediately. Hans Blix, chief of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Committee (UNMOVIC), the lead inspection agency; U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan; and the U.N. Security Council are expected to discuss the report in private Tuesday.

"We'll have a quick look at it tonight just so we can start to think about he mechanics of dealing with it," UNMOVIC spokesman Ewen Buchanan said in an interview. "One of the first things we'll have to do is determine how much of this stuff is actually new."

UNMOVIC's analysis team of about 15 experts will pore over the documents, but must wait for many crucial pieces of evidence to be translated from Arabic, Buchanan said. U.S. officials will do the same.

The Bush administration has made clear that it believes it has independent U.S. intelligence proving that Iraq has nuclear, biological and-or chemical weapons, or at least is trying to develop them. So far it has declined to make its evidence public, essentially saying "trust us."

"President Bush has said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Tony Blair has said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Donald Rumsfeld has said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. (Former U.N. arms inspector) Richard Butler has said they do. The United Nations has said they do. The experts have said they do. Iraq says they don't," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Thursday. "You can choose who you want to believe."


(Diego Ibarguen contributed to this report.)


(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.