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Experts examine Iraqi weapons declaration; preliminary analysis expected next week

UNITED NATIONS—U.N. weapons inspectors said Tuesday that they expect to deliver a preliminary analysis of Iraq's recent weapons declaration late next week. Meantime, U.S. and other experts combed through the document looking to see if Saddam Hussein divulged all of his weapons programs.

One senior U.S. official said that a first glance at the 12,000-page declaration does not appear to shed significant new light on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs.

Meanwhile, President Bush met Tuesday at the White House with the incoming leader of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose backing will be critical if Bush decides to use force to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Turkey borders Iraq to the north.

Bush and other U.S. officials promise to support Turkey's bid to join the European Union, and they lavished praise on Erdogan, who leads the Justice and Development Party.

The group has its roots in Islamic parties now banned in Turkey.

"We join you side by side in your desire to become a member of the European Union," Bush said at a brief appearance with Erdogan.

The United States also is weighing a hefty increase in economic assistance to help Turkey's faltering economy, said U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity. The size of the extra aid package remains to be negotiated with Congress. Published reports have said it could be as much as $800 million annually over five years.

The U.S. military would need Turkish bases to launch an attack on Iraq from the north, which would be coupled with strikes from the south using bases in the Persian Gulf states of Kuwait and Qatar.

Washington also wants Turkey to agree to "hands off the Kurds" and use of the bases, said a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity. He referred to concerns that Turkey might send its own troops into Iraq to stop ethnic Kurds, who also live in southeastern Turkey, from attempting to set up their own state.

Bush reminded Erdogan of the U.S. view that Iraq should remain whole, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

At the United Nations, chief weapons inspector Hans Blix told members of the Security Council that he expected to be ready to give a "very preliminary assessment of the substance" of the declaration by Dec. 19.

His team is in the process of removing sensitive information on weapons production from the declaration. Council members should get a sanitized version of the text early next week. The five nuclear powers who are the permanent members of the council—the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia—already had the document and were busy studying it.

The United States got the declaration first, late Sunday and gave copies to the other four.

"A lot if it looks familiar," said one senior U.S. official, who termed the declaration a "yawner."

Asked if the declaration appeared different from numerous previous documents Iraq has provided since the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "I haven't heard anybody assert that."

The Bush administration was reserving judgment, however, until experts can pore over the voluminous document and compare it with previous Iraqi documents and U.S. intelligence assessments.

"It'll be days, not hours" before the United States makes its views public, the official said.

According to a nine-page table of contents, the declaration includes information on Iraq's past secret efforts to build a nuclear weapon and its efforts to build biological and chemical weapons.

Much of the document is in Arabic. "The bottleneck, frankly, is translation," Blix said.

U.N. weapons inspectors returned to Iraq last month under a tough Security Council resolution that threatened "serious consequences" if Iraq fails to comply with its obligations to disarm.

Iraq maintains that it no longer has weapons of mass destruction or the means to deliver them.

On Tuesday, Colombian Ambassador Alfonso Valdivieso, whose country holds the council's rotating presidency, defended his decision to give the five permanent members an advance look at Iraq's declaration, saying the choice was made with the support of the majority of the council.

But several diplomats, bothered by the suddenness of the move, said they were assured that similar moves would not happen again. "Those who did it this time felt really awkward," said Mauritian Ambassador Jagdish Koonjul.

Diplomats said all 15 council members would be involved in deciding whether the contents of Iraq's declaration constituted a further violation of the Security Council resolution passed last month.


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